Bullying makes premature babies more prone to mental illnesses: Study

Bullying makes premature babies more prone to mental illnesses: Study

Bullying is a common and potentially damaging phenomenon among children. Most often, children are involved in the act either as victims, witnesses or, even worse, as perpetrators. While peer bullying is, at times, dismissed as a normal teenage behavior, school authorities need to realize the impact it has on the minds of the children in the long run.

A study by the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at the McMaster University found that those who are born with an extremely low birth weight (ELBW) are more likely to have been bullied during their childhood. The feelings of trauma and isolation that appear in childhood due to persistent subjugation get translated into high risk for mental illness in later years. The study, titled “Long-term Psychiatric Impact of Peer Victimization in Adults Born at Extremely Low Birth Weight,” was published online in the journal Pediatrics in February 2016.

As part of the study, the researchers followed 179 babies born during 1977-1982 in Ontario and had  ELBW of 2.2 pounds. After eight years, the researchers again followed up the children asking them questions about issues pertaining to peer victimization. At the same time, they also recruited a matched control group comprising children with normal birth weight (NBW) and asked them similar questions. Successive interviews were taken at ages 22-26 and 29-36 for both the groups.

Peer victimization has long-term effects on mental health

The results revealed that ELBW babies who faced peer victimization at a tender age had increased odds of developing depression, anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 22-26 years. And at age 29-36 years, such kids were found to experience mental illness such as panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). For NBW kids, no such risk was identified, barring an increased risk for antisocial problems at age 22-26 years

Lead author of the study Kimberly Day, Lawson Postdoctoral Fellow at the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster, said, “Being bullied has a significant and lasting impact for those preemies, even into their 30s. This has important implications for parents, teachers, and clinicians who need to be aware of the long-term effects of peer victimization on mental health. They need to watch out for bullying and intervene when possible.”

Stressing on the need for authorities to prevent physically weak children from being tormented by their peers, senior author of the study Dr. Ryan Van Lieshout, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster, said, “Their risk for anxiety disorders is especially high, particularly among those who are exposed to bullying on a regular basis.”

The study also hinted the fact that the probability of developing a mental health disorder gets doubled if an ELBW baby gets bullied by his peers till the age of 20. However, it could not establish a causative link between victimized ELBW kids and their likelihood of developing mental illnesses. Day said, “Possibly because of poor motor skills, higher levels of anxiety and depression and lower IQ so all these things have been found and they also have fewer resilience factors.”

While nearly one-third of the children around the world experience bullying, those born prematurely are more prone to suffer its aftereffect. But this does not mean that all born with an ELBW experiencing bullying will suffer from adverse psychiatric disorders as adults.

Way to recovery

Mental illness in children is a serious issue that needs immediate attention. Caregivers need to conduct a more holistic review of a child’s psychiatric history with depression and anxiety and explore other potential risk factors that could result in a sudden and unexpected episode.

If your child is struggling with a mental health issue that needs medical intervention, get in touch with the Arizona Depression Helpline to seek professional help. The depression rehab centers in Arizona can offer the best available treatment for depression.

The signs of depression are not the same for all, but one constantly needs to be vigilant. The depression help in Arizona can provide you with information about the best treatment options in your vicinity. You may call our 24/7 helpline at 866-233-3895 or chat online for further information.