Bullying victimisation and risk of self harm in early adolescence: longitudinal cohort study

BMJ. 2012 Apr 26;344:e2683. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e2683.

Abstract

Objectives: To test whether frequent bullying victimisation in childhood increases the likelihood of self harming in early adolescence, and to identify which bullied children are at highest risk of self harm.

Design: The Environmental Risk (E-Risk) longitudinal study of a nationally representative UK cohort of 1116 twin pairs born in 1994-95 (2232 children).

Setting: England and Wales, United Kingdom.

Participants: Children assessed at 5, 7, 10, and 12 years of age.

Main outcome measures: Relative risks of children's self harming behaviour in the six months before their 12th birthday.

Results: Self harm data were available for 2141 children. Among children aged 12 who had self harmed (2.9%; n=62), more than half were victims of frequent bullying (56%; n=35). Exposure to frequent bullying predicted higher rates of self harm even after children's pre-morbid emotional and behavioural problems, low IQ, and family environmental risks were taken into account (bullying victimisation reported by mother: adjusted relative risk 1.92, 95% confidence interval 1.18 to 3.12; bullying victimisation reported by child: 2.44, 1.36 to 4.40). Victimised twins were more likely to self harm than were their non-victimised twin sibling (bullying victimisation reported by mother: 13/162 v 3/162, ratio=4.3, 95% confidence interval 1.3 to 14.0; bullying victimisation reported by child: 12/144 v 7/144, ratio=1.7, 0.71 to 4.1). Compared with bullied children who did not self harm, bullied children who self harmed were distinguished by a family history of attempted/completed suicide, concurrent mental health problems, and a history of physical maltreatment by an adult.

Conclusions: Prevention of non-suicidal self injury in young adolescents should focus on helping bullied children to cope more appropriately with their distress. Programmes should target children who have additional mental health problems, have a family history of attempted/completed suicide, or have been maltreated by an adult.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Adult
  • Bullying / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Behavior
  • Cohort Studies
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Family Health
  • Family Relations*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior* / etiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior* / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology