Young people

Bullied children more likely to self-harm

Bullied children more likely to self-harm Risk higher for girls

Children who are bullied in childhood are up to three times more likely to harm themselves, according to new research.

Around a quarter of all school children in the UK are bullied at school at some point in their lives, researchers from King's College London said.

Past research has linked bullying to a range of problems in teenagers including anxiety, depression, psychosis and behavioural problems, but few studies have looked whether a victimised child is more likely to self-harm.

Researchers looked at more than 1000 sets of twins at ages five, seven, 10 and 12, who were born in England and Wales between 1994 -1995, and assessed the risks of them self-harming in the six months prior to their 12th birthday.

Bullying was defined as a child saying mean or hurtful things; completely ignoring or excluding their victim; hitting, kicking or pushing the victim; telling lies or spreading rumours and/or doing other hurtful things, all on a regular basis.

The study found that out of 2141 children, 237 had been regularly bullied, and 18 (8%) had self-harmed. Of the 1904 children who had not been bullied, only 44 (22%) self-harmed.

Examples of self-harm given by the researchers included cutting and biting arms; pulling out clumps of hair; banging their head against walls and attempted suicide by strangulation.

The study also found that the likelihood of a victimised child self-harming was slightly higher for girls than boys.

Study leader Dr Helen Fisher, from the Institute of Psychiatry at the university, said: "This study clearly demonstrates that children who are bullied by peers are more likely to self-harm.

"The children who were most at risk were those who had previously been maltreated by someone else, who had underlying mental health problems, or a family history of suicide."

She added: "More effective programmes to prevent bullying from happening are required, but there is also a clear need for more opportunities to help children cope with emotional distress arising from bullying.

"We hope that parents, teachers and doctors will be able to use this evidence to help identify children at risk of self-harming."

This article was published on Fri 27 April 2012

Image © Mikael Damkier -

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