Boys who bully or are victims of bullies may have a higher risk of mental health disorders as young men, a study published Monday suggests.
The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, are based on a group of 2,540 boys Finnish boys. At age 8, the boys were asked whether and how often they bullied other children, were targets of bullying, or both. Parents and teachers also answered questions about any psychiatric symptoms the boys had.
This information was then compared with psychiatric diagnoses in young adulthood — made during medical exams for compulsory military service at 18 to 23 years of age.
Overall, the study authors found, boys who habitually bullied were more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder as young men. People with this disorder have a disregard for the law and the rights of other people, and are often aggressive or violent.
On the other end of the spectrum, boys who were frequent victims of bullying had an elevated risk of anxiety disorders as young men.
Boys who were both perpetrators and victims of bullying appeared to be the worst off; they had elevated risks of both anxiety disorders and antisocial personality disorder as young adults.
The findings suggest that frequent bullying and victimization is "a red flag that something might be wrong and preventive interventions should take place," said lead study author Dr. Andre Sourander of Turku University in Finland.
At particular risk are boys who are both involved in bullying — as perpetrator or victim — and have emotional or general behavioral problems, Sourander told Reuters Health.
He recommended that these boys be evaluated by a mental health professional. Boys who are both bullies and victims seem especially in need of help, Sourander noted. Of these boys, who made up 3 percent of the study group, nearly all had some psychiatric problem at the age of 8, he said.
For parents of bullies and bullying victims alike, it's vital to work with teachers and school health staff to help their children, according to Sourander. "Cooperation between parents, teachers and health professionals is most important," he said.