School Bullying and Depression Linked in Adolescents

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Depression puts adolescents at increased risk for bullying: Photo by Sasha Wolff

Are victimized kids depressed because they’re bullied, or bullied because they’re depressed?

Bullying has become a hot topic in American society. State legislatures have passed anti-bullying laws attempting to crack down on the problem in schools, as social media sites have come under fire for cyber-bullying issues online, and parents have become more concerned with protecting their children from bullying everywhere. With so much attention focused on the aftermath of harassment, teasing, and even violence among kids, however, little has been paid to the potential causes of the behavior.

New Study Examines Causes Of Bullying

Dr. Karen Kochel, an assistant research professor at Arizona State University’s School of Social and Family Dynamics, performed a longitudinal study examining rates of bullying and depression in children grades 4 through 6. In the study, children were monitored by parents and teachers for behavioral indicators of depression. Parents and teachers were also keeping track of instances of bullying, such as gossiping, verbal or physical altercations, and name-calling.

In the study, Dr. Kochel found that depression was present before instances of bullying. Decoded Science asked her the most surprising aspects of her research, and she stated,

This study’s main findings – that depressive symptoms contributed to the development of peer relationship difficulties – were unexpected given that the bulk of prior work supports the opposite direction of association (i.e., that peer difficulties drive depression). We certainly cannot rule out the possibility that some forms of peer relationships contribute to depression among some samples of youth, or the possibility that depression and peer relationship problems are cyclically related. Our study results, however, do not provide support for these perspectives. 

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