Dieter Wolke

Keynote abstract – 2017 ESCAP Congress, Geneva

Peers and siblings matter for mental health: long term consequences of bullying

'Peers and siblings matter for mental health': original keynote abstract by Dieter Wolke (University of Warwick, UK) on long term consequences of bullying (ESCAP 2017 Congress in Geneva, Switzerland).


Objective: This keynote presentation will review longitudinal research on the effects of bullying in childhood on mental health and economic functioning into adolescence and adulthood. Bullying is the systematic abuse of power and defined as aggressive behaviour or intentional harm doing by peers that is carried out repeatedly, and involves an imbalance of power, either actual or perceived, between the victim and the bully. One in 3 children report having been bullied at some point in their lives, and 10 - 14% experience chronic bullying lasting for more than six months. Being bullied by peers is the most frequent form of abuse encountered by children, much higher than abuse by parents or other adult perpetrators.
Methods: Review of propsective longitudinal studies.
Results: Children who were victims of bullying are at higher risk for common somatic problems, internalizing problems and anxiety disorder or depression disorder and at highly increased risk to self-harm or think about suicide in adolescence. The mental health problems of victims and bully/victims remain in adulthood. Indeed, we showed that peer bullying in childhood has more adverse effects on diagnosed anxiety and mood disorders than being physically or sexually abused or neglected by parents. The service use of mental health services has been found to be highly increased across adulthood in those who were bullied. Victimised children reach also lower educational qualifications, were poorer in financial management and earned less than their peers even at age 50. Victims also report to have more trouble with making or keeping friends in adulthood and were less likely to live with a partner and have social support. In contrast, bullies had no increased risk for any mental or general health problems, were healthier than their peers, emotionally and physically.
Conclusions. Being bullied has highly adverse health effects and service use implications. Sadly, many bullied children suffer in silence for fear of reprisals or shame. Children will have spent much more time with their peers than their parents by the time they reach 18 years of age. It is thus surprising that childhood bullying is not at the forefront as a major public health concern. To prevent dropping out of school, violence against oneself (e.g. self-harm) and reduce mental and somatic health problems, it is imperative for health practitioners, families and schools to address bullying.

Read the Dieter Wolke interview