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November 2017

Causal and Noncausal Processes Underlying Being Bullied

Author Affiliations
  • 1Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
  • 2Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
JAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(11):1091-1092. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2523

Bullying is a distinct form of aggressive behavior that is intentional, repeated, and involves a power imbalance between the perpetrator and victim.

Dan Olweus, in Social Withdrawal, Inhibition, and Shyness, 19931

Nearly 1 in 5 children have been bullied by peers.2 No longer considered a normative behavior of childhood, being bullied by a peer is a major risk factor for a wide spectrum of adverse outcomes in children.3 The rising number of suicides and violence among children who have been bullied makes understanding the causal processes a high priority. Internalizing behaviors, externalizing problems, poor school performance, somatization, and low self-esteem are some of the commonly reported difficulties in children who are bullied. However, the problems are not limited to childhood. Population-based studies demonstrate an enduring effect on mental health outcomes in adulthood long after the bullying has stopped.4 Despite these demonstrable associations, it is not known to what extent bullying and mental health are causally linked.