Bullying Linked to Mental Health Concerns in Teenagers

A survey of Iowa youth found that some, but not all, forms of bullying were associated with sadness, hopelessness, and suicide attempts.

According to United States statistics, about 20% of young people aged 12 to 18 have experienced bullying. Children and young adults bullied are more likely to experience health complaints, lower academic achievement, and mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression.

Moreover, the CDC’s 2011 to 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that mental health among students continues to worsen, with more than 40% of high school students experiencing sadness and hopelessness that interferes with their daily activities.

With the growing mental health crisis among youth, it’s imperative to identify factors — such as bullying — that may be responsible for mental distress in young people.

However, according to a new study published on February 15 in the journal PLOS ONE, certain types of bullying may cause more harm than others. Analyzing data from 70,451 responses — a cross-sectional survey of 6th, 8th, and 11th-grade students — researchers found that physical bullying and bullying based on religion did not significantly impact mental health.

However, bullying related to gender identity or sexual orientation and hurtful sexual-related bullying was associated with sadness, hopelessness, and suicide attempts. In addition, social, cyber, and racial bullying was also linked to increased mental distress and suicide attempts.

Because anti-bullying programs generally do not offer guidance on what type of content to include, the study authors say that their findings could be used to develop campaigns that target the types of bullying most associated with mental distress.

"The data make it fairly clear that anti-bullying campaigns should target cyberbullying and identity-based bullying first, and more specifically sexual identity or gender-based joking," the authors wrote.

Still, the team says that although physical and religion-based bullying seems to be a lower priority, policymakers should not ignore them when designing anti-bullying campaigns.

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