Psychological Medicine

Review Article

Bullying victimization in youths and mental health problems: ‘Much ado about nothing’?

L. Arseneaulta1 c1, L. Bowesa1 and S. Shakoora1

a1 MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK

Abstract

Bullying victimization is a topic of concern for youths, parents, school staff and mental health practitioners. Children and adolescents who are victimized by bullies show signs of distress and adjustment problems. However, it is not clear whether bullying is the source of these difficulties. This paper reviews empirical evidence to determine whether bullying victimization is a significant risk factor for psychopathology and should be the target of intervention and prevention strategies. Research indicates that being the victim of bullying (1) is not a random event and can be predicted by individual characteristics and family factors; (2) can be stable across ages; (3) is associated with severe symptoms of mental health problems, including self-harm, violent behaviour and psychotic symptoms; (4) has long-lasting effects that can persist until late adolescence; and (5) contributes independently to children's mental health problems. This body of evidence suggests that efforts aimed at reducing bullying victimization in childhood and adolescence should be strongly supported. In addition, research on explanatory mechanisms involved in the development of mental health problems in bullied youths is needed.

(Received June 03 2009)

(Revised August 16 2009)

(Accepted August 21 2009)

(Online publication September 29 2009)

Correspondence

c1 Address for correspondence: L. Arseneault, Ph.D., MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Box Number P080, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. (Email: louise.arseneault@kcl.ac.uk)

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