Bullying Linked to Adult Depression

Nearly one-third of early adulthood depression could be linked to bullying in teenage years.


A study published in the British Medical Journal showed that bullying in teenage years is strongly associated with depression later on in life. (see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150602200506.htm for a review of the study and http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h2469 for the source article).

Now obviously correlation does not mean causation. Meaning we have no idea whether depressed individuals are more likely to be bullied or if bullied individuals are more likely to be depressed. All the researchers can say is that being bullied and being depressed often occur together.

The reasons for wanting to look at this is because the World Health Organization considers depression to be a leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the global burden of disease. (see: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/) In other words, depression prevents people from living full lives and it leads to around 1 million suicides each year. If we can reduce rates of depression, we can have a tremendous positive impact on the world.

If 1/3rd of all adult depression is linked to bullying while in school, then it is reasonable to assume that bullying prevention or elimination could substantially decrease the rate of adult depression. Which is a fancy way of saying, we need to do something about school bullying but now we have some science to back up the urgency of us actually taking the problem seriously.

So what can we learn from this study.

  • First we learned that the teen years in particular are a very sensitive time developmentally. Kids bullied in their teens are the group most at risk for developing depression.
  • Teens who are being bullied need mental health care and support.
  • We need to start teaching kids how to get bullying to stop instead of just hoping they will figure it out on their own.

Learning how to get a bully to stop is empowering. The skills required can be taught. We need to start explicitly teaching kids these skills. If you don’t know what these skills are – learn them. That’s what this website is for!