Teen victims of bullying are much more likely to experience poor mental health and anger issues

Why has it taken so long to connect poor teen mental health to being bullied? It seems to me that the likely harms such as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and anger would be exacerbated by being bullied.

A new study, believed to be the first, and co-led by University of California Los Angeles Health (UCLA) and Glasgow University, found that teenagers who develop a strong distrust of other people as a result of childhood bullying, are substantially more likely to have mental health problems later on when compared to those who don’t have problems with interpersonal trust.

Researchers used data from 10,000 UK children who were followed for nearly 20 years as part of the Millennium Cohort Study. From this data, the researchers found that adolescents who were bullied at age 11, and in turn developed greater interpersonal distrust by age 14, were around 3.5 times more likely to have mental health problems at age 17 compared to those who were less distrustful.

Dr George Slavich, director at the suicide Health Laboratory for Stress ­Assessment and Research, said there are few public health topics more concerning than youth mental health and in order to help teens reach their fullest potential, called for investment in research to identify risk factors and prevention programmes to improve lifelong health and resilience. It’s about time. Youth mental health is on all our minds.

Recent studies from the US report 44.2% of surveyed high-school students were depressed for at least two weeks in 2021, with one in 10 students attempting suicide that year. We’re only just learning the full impact of bullying, which can instil the belief that people can’t be trusted and that the world is an unfriendly, dangerous or unpredictable place.

However, following teens over time, this study is the first to confirm how bullying leads to distrust and, in turn, to mental health problems in late adolescence. The researchers explain that when people develop clinically significant mental health problems during the teenage years, it can increase their risk of both mental and physical health issues across their entire lifespan if left unaddressed.

Dr Dimitris Tsomokos of Glasgow University and study co-author affirms: “Parents, teachers and researchers have known for a while that a sense of belonging in school and communities is crucial for children and adolescents, both in terms of academic performance and overall wellbeing.”

If that sense of belonging breaks down, distrust takes over and threatens mental wellbeing. We must help our children to keep the faith.