Do bullied children experience more health problems?

Bullying is a risk factor for poor psychological health.  Dozens of research studies have already established that bullied children are at greater risk than their non-bullied peers for anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation, as well as compromised school achievement.  What is not as well-known is that bullying also affects physical health as well.

Bullied children are at least twice as likely as non peer-victimized children to experience with psychosomatic problems such as headaches, stomachaches, vomiting, dizziness, poor appetite, skin problems, sleeping problems, and bed-wetting, according to a study published online today in Pediatrics.

The study complements another published earlier this year in the same journal showing that psychosomatic abdominal pain in children predicts increased rates of anxiety and depression in teens and young adults.

The current study, co-authored by Italian psychologists Gianluca Gini and Tiziana Pozzoli, used a meta-analytic design: Already published studies on the topic of bullying and health complaints were culled according to pre-determined criteria of quality and their results aggregated to determine recurring trends.  A similar meta-analysis published in 2009 synthesized the results of 11 studies and found a similar result, but this 2013 research included all relevant studies published since that time, increasing the number of total studies included to 30 and, hence, adding credibility to the original finding. Moreover, the 30 published studies comprising the meta-analysis derived from child samples from many different countries, suggesting that bullying – and its association with increased risk of psychosomatic symptoms – is at least an international phenomenon.

The authors made a specific point of noting that their study’s conclusions add to the large -- and sobering – body of research that documents the comprised development and adjustment of bullied children and teens. They recommended that professionals who interact with children – particularly pediatricians – attend to children who present with recurrent psychosomatic complaints as this could signal ongoing bullying.

Pediatricians are cautioned that, because many bullied children are not too inclined to give up the goods and admit to victimization by peers, questions should be general and focus instead on experiences with friends (if the children can’t answer, this might suggest social withdrawal) or simply ask if the child “feels safe” at school.  Pediatricians are also urged to review the signs of bullying with parents regularly at check-ups and parents in turn are encouraged to be assertive with schools to take strong anti-bullying measures.

Good resources for bullying are given below, and were taken from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s website:

Information for Parents

Information for parents of bullied or bullying children/warning signs: StopBullying.gov

Information for Students

How to deal with being bullied: StopBullying.gov

Programs

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) is designed to be implemented in schools across the country to reduce and prevent school bullying.

Cyberbullying

StopCyberbullying

The Cyberbullying Research Center

Who to Contact

To report incidents of bullying anonymously within the Philadelphia School District
(215) 400-SAFE

Center for the Prevention of School Violence
(800) 299-6504

 


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