Depressed Kids May Be Targets for Bullying, Study Suggests

New research challenges notion that bullying leads to mental health woes

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 8, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Children with depression are at increased risk for bullying, the results of a new study suggest.

The finding challenges the widely held belief that bullying leads to psychological problems such as depression, according to the Arizona State University researchers.

"Often the assumption is that problematic peer relationships drive depression. We found that depression symptoms predicted negative peer relationships," Karen Kochel, an assistant research professor in the School of Social and Family Dynamics, said in a university news release.

"We examined the issue from both directions but found no evidence to suggest that peer relationships forecasted depression among this school-based sample of adolescents," she added.

The researchers analyzed data collected from 486 children from fourth to sixth grade and found that being depressed in fourth grade predicted bullying in fifth grade and lack of peer acceptance in sixth grade.

The findings are published in the Feb. 7 online edition of the journal Child Development.

"Teachers, administrators and parents need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression and the possibility that depression is a risk factor for problematic peer relations," Kochel said.

She noted that positive peer relationships are essential for adapting to aspects of life including academic success and good mental health.

"If adolescent depression forecasts peer relationship problems, then recognizing depression is very important at this particular age. This is especially true given that social adjustment in adolescence appears to have implications for functioning throughout an individual's lifetime," Kochel said.

Because kids usually start spending more time with their peers and less time with their parents during adolescence, school may be the best place to uncover and address signs of depression in these children, the researchers noted.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about bullying.

SOURCE: Arizona State University, news release, Feb. 8, 2012
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