Bullies Are More Likely to Target Children at Risk of Depression and ADHD

Bullies Are More Likely to Target Children at Risk of Depression and ADHD

Any child can be bullied, and about one in five children are tormented by physical and verbal abuse. But are some more likely to be victimized than others?

The answer is yes, according to a recent study from the United Kingdom. Researchers found children at risk for mental health ills such as depression are at the highest risk of bullying.

This is concerning to parents whose children have been through Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as abuse or neglect. The trauma and toxic stress that often follow ACEs make it more likely the children will experience depression and other mental health problems as they get older. In addition, the verbal and physical abuse of bullying is an ACE in itself and has even driven some children to kill themselves.

The approximately 5,000 children in the UK study  were interviewed at ages 8, 10, and 13. Those more likely to be bullied were at risk of mental health disorders like depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or were overweight, according to a report in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“This is an important paper that convincingly shows being bullied in childhood and adolescence is not just about being at the wrong place and at the wrong time,” Dr. Louise Arseneault of King’s College London, who was not involved in the study, told Newsweek.

What you can do

— Children are often reluctant to tell their parents about bullying. Pay attention to signs that suggest your child is being bullied.

— Listen sympathetically. Don’t blame your child for what happened or ask “What did you do that might have caused this?”

— Comfort your child: Let her know you love her and are there for her. Get professional help right away if you think your child needs it or if she or he shows signs of depression or self-destructiveness.

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— Teach your child safety strategies, such as walking away and telling an adult if someone is bullying or threatening to hurt him. Suggest your child walk with a friend and act confident, even if he doesn’t feel that way at first. Encourage him to keep his head up and “walk tall.”

— Enlist the school for help in getting the bullying to stop. If that doesn’t happen, consider another school.

— Find out if your school is “trauma-sensitive.” If not, talk with other parents and the PTA about how you could help make that happen.

— Check out The Bully Project, a social action campaign to end bullying inspired by the award-winning film BULLY. Visit the The Bully Project to set up a screening of BULLY at your school. If anything can change hearts and minds, it’s this movie.

Further resources

Check out Great Schools’ article: What Parents Can Do about Childhood Bullying and KidsHealth on Dealing with Bullying (Teens) — good advice for the bullied and bullies alike.

Visit Stop Bullying.gov for more on cyberbullying and to read Bullying as an Adverse Childhood Experience.