Sibling bullying increases the risk of depression

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A study which was led by the University of Oxford suggests that being regularly bullied by a sibling could put children at risk of depression later in life.

About 7000, 12-year-olds were asked if they had had any bullying experiences, such as hitting, lying about them, ignoring them, or saying hurtful things, by a sibling. The children were approached again when they reached the age of 18, when they were questioned about their mental health.

Previous studies have suggested that victims of peer bullying may be prone to self-harm, anxiety and depression. This particular study is said to be the first time bullying by siblings during childhood and the results thereof in adulthood, has been examined.

Researchers based at the Universities of Bristol, Warwick, Oxford and University College London, sent questionnaires to thousands of families that included 12-year-old children during 2003/04. They returned to them six years later to assess the state of their mental health.

They were questioned about sibling bullying. The questionnaire stated that this included when a sister or brother tries to upset you by saying hurtful or nasty things, completely ignores you when with their group of friends, kicks, shoves, hits or pushes you, makes up false stories about you or tells lies about you.

Most of the participants stated that they had not experienced this type of bullying. Of those who stated this, 6.4% had depression scores listed in the clinically significant range by the time they reached the age of 18. Around 9.3% of them suffered from anxiety and 7.6% had self-harmed during the previous year.

The 786 who stated that they had experienced sibling bullying several times per week, it was found that they were twice as likely to suffer anxiety, self-harm and depression, compared to the other children. This group included 12.3% who had suffered depression, 14% self-harmed and 16% reported suffering from anxiety.

It was found that girls were more likely to be victims of sibling bullying than boys, particularly in families with three children or more.

It was found that older brothers were generally responsible for this.

Victims of bullying stated that it had commenced around the age of eight, on average.

Dr Lucy Bowes, the lead author from the department of social policy and intervention at the University of Oxford, said that although it was not confirmed that sibling bullying causes depression, the results of the research were significant. She said the conversations about this need to change, because if this happened in a school environment, there would be repercussions.

She stated that more research is required, but parents should also listen to their children, as this could be causing long-term harm to children.

She added that this does not include the normal sort of teasing that usually occurs within families, but incidents that take place regularly, where victims suffer physical and verbal abuse, or are being ignored.

Emma Jane Cross, based at BeatBullying, the bullying prevention charity, said that being bullied during childhood can have a devastating impact which could last for the rest of a person’s life. Parents who have concerns regarding this issue should communicate with their children before the problem worsens. It is vital to tackle the problem of sibling bullying, rather than considering it as sibling rivalry.

Image Credit: Aislinn Ritchie

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