Sibling bullying 'linked with later mental health disorders'

Posted on September 20, 2014

The findings, published in the journal, Pediatrics, are the results of the first longitudinal study to investigate possible links between sibling bullying and clinical depression and self-harm in young adults.

The research, conducted by the Universities of Oxford, Warwick, Bristol and UCL, suggests interventions are needed to specifically target a form of bullying which it says, to date, has been largely ignored by academics, policy makers and clinicians.

Lead author Dr Lucy Bowes, from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford, said: 'Forms of bullying where victims are shoved around the playground or targeted at work have been well documented, however, this study uncovers a largely hidden form of bullying. Victims of sibling bullying are offered little escape as sibling relationships endure throughout development.

"We are not talking about the sort of teasing that often goes on within families, but incidents that occur several times a week, in which victims are ignored by their brothers or sisters, or are subjected to verbal or physical violence."

Children of women who enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) in the 1990s took part in the research. Nearly 7,000 children, aged 12, completed postal questionnaires in 2003-4 about whether they had experienced any form of sibling bullying and if so, how often it happened.

The same children were followed up at the age of 18 years, so their mental health could be assessed using a validated online questionnaire, known as the Clinical Interview Schedule. The teenagers attended a clinic to fill in the questionnaire that asked them about their feelings and any recent self-harming behaviour.

Of the 3,452 children with information on both sibling bullying and psychiatric outcomes, 1,810 said they had not been bullied by a brother or sister. Of these, 6.4% had depression scores in the clinically significant range, 9.3% experienced anxiety and 7.6% had self-harmed in the previous year. Of the 786 children who said they had been bullied by a sibling several times a week, clinical depression was reported by 12.3%, 14% had self-harmed in the previous year and 16% of them reported anxiety.

The link between being bullied by their siblings as a child and later mental health disorders was found to be similar for both boys and girls.

Victims were more likely to be girls than boys, with this form of bullying more common in families where there were three or more children. Older brothers were often the perpetrators. On average, victims reported that sibling bullying had started at the age of eight.

Category(s):Child Development, Family Problems

Source material from University of Oxford