Early years bullying linked to self harming

Children who are bullied in their early years are almost three times more likely to self harm as teenagers than their classmates according to new research published in the British Medical Journal.


by Louise-Anne Geddes, Mindful Mum, 27th April 2012

The study examined the link between bullying in early years with the risk of self harming in later years, and acknowledges that ‘bullying by peers is a major problem during the early school years’.  According to their research, around 25% of children in the UK report ‘exposure to such victimisation’.  The study states that ‘bullying victimization is associated with a myriad of emotional and behavioural problems throughout adolescence’.

Research findings

Data was available from 2141 children who were assessed at the ages of 5,7,10 and 12.  ‘Bullying victimisation’ was assessed during interviews with mothers when the children were aged 5,7 and 10 years old and separately in private interviews with the children during home visits when the children were 12 years old.  Only mothers were asked about self harm due to ethical considerations.  Examples of self harming behaviours included cutting and biting arms, pulling out clumps of hair, banging head against walls, and attempted suicides by strangulation.  Of the group, 62 of the 2141 children had self harmed, 52% of whom were female.


The researchers concluded that:

“Bullying by peers is a major problem during the early school years. This study found that before 12 years of age a small proportion of children frequently exposed to this form of victimisation already deliberately harmed themselves and in some cases attempted to take their own lives. Frequent victimisation by peers increased the risk of self harm independently of a range of potential confounders. Children exposed to family adversity or who had specific concurrent mental health difficulties had the greatest risk of engaging in self destructive behaviours after exposure to bullying by peers. Therefore, schools and health care professionals aiming to prevent adolescents’ self harm should reduce bullying and introduce self harm risk reduction programmes for bullied children with any of the following risk factors: a family history of suicidal behaviour, maltreatment at home, symptoms of depression or psychosis, conduct problems, or borderline personality characteristics”.

The full study can be found at the link below.

Source:  The British Medical Journal, Bullying victimisation and risk of self harm in adolescence:  longitudinal cohort study, 26th April 2012

Photography: Anthony Kelly @Flickr 

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