Sibling Bullies May Leave Lasting Effects

Study links harassment at home to higher levels of depression, anxiety

MONDAY, Sept. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Being bullied by a sibling as a child is a potential risk factor for depression, self-harm, and anxiety in early adulthood, according to a study published online Sept. 8 in Pediatrics.

Lucy Bowes, Ph.D., from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and colleagues conducted a longitudinal study using data from participants of a U.K. community-based birth cohort (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) who reported on sibling bullying at 12 years of age. Data on sibling bullying and psychiatric outcomes at 18 years of age were provided by 3,452 children.

Children who were frequently bullied were approximately twice as likely to report depression, self-harm, and anxiety as children who were not bullied by siblings. The kids who experienced the most bullying were most likely to report problems at age 18. The study design didn't allow the researchers to pinpoint the exact level of extra risk that the most-bullied kids faced of being depressed, being anxious, or hurting themselves. However, "just over 10 percent of our sample reported being bullied several times a week, and in this group there was a significant risk of psychiatric ill health," Bowes told HealthDay.

Although the study only found an association and doesn't prove that these risks resulted directly from sibling bullying, "we believe it very likely that interventions to reduce sibling bullying would improve children's mental health in the longer term," Bowes said.

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