Being Bullied by Age Eight Linked to Depression in Adulthood


There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that being exposed to bullying in childhood can contribute to mental health problems later in life. In a new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, the researchers found that children who reported being bullied at age eight were significantly more likely to seek treatment for mental health problems by age twenty-nine.


“The findings of the study are important for mental health research, prevention, assessment, and intervention,” the researchers write. “Frequent exposure to bullying at 8 years of age was associated with later adult psychiatric disorders, even in the absence of childhood psychiatric symptoms.”

The study is the largest to date to look at childhood bullying in both boys and girls and includes the longest follow-up period for tracking the participants mental health. It is part of the multicenter Finnish Nationwide Birth Cohort Study which began with a nationwide sample of eight-year-old children in 1981. The connection between bullying and adult mental health problems, while previously examined, is strengthened considerably by this study’s size, design, and ability to control for health and demographic factors.

“To our knowledge, the present study provides the strongest evidence todate that frequent exposure to bullying in early childhood increases the risk fordepressive disorder later in life,” they write.

The researchers point out that these findings strengthen psychological explanations of depression. Specifically, the interpersonal theory of depression suggests that our close relationships act as a buffer against depression and that negative relationships in early childhood, through bullying or other types of trauma and humiliation, can disrupt the ability to build and maintain quality relationships.

In their conclusion, the study authors urge parents, teachers, and doctors to take preventative measures to prevent bullying.



Sourander, A., Gyllenberg, D., Klomek, A. B., Sillanmäki, L., Ilola, A. M., & Kumpulainen, K. (2015). Association of bullying behavior at 8 years of age and use of specialized services for psychiatric disorders by 29 years of age.JAMA psychiatry, 1-7. (Abstract)

Previous articlePsychiatrists Raise Doubts on Brain Scan Studies
Next articleNorbert Wetzel – Long Bio
Justin Karter
MIA Research News Editor: Justin M. Karter is the lead research news editor for Mad in America. He completed his doctorate in Counseling Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He also holds graduate degrees in both Journalism and Community Psychology from Point Park University. He brings a particular interest in examining and decoding cultural narratives of mental health and reimagining the institutions built on these assumptions.


  1. Yeah, until one learns to either fight back or simply see that ‘bullies’ are very insecure cowards who will always be stuck and going in circles until they learn how to get along in society without bullying others.

    Standing up for one’s self and gaining perspective is what heals post-traumatic stress from chronic bullying. These actions of self-compassion rewrite the neurons, naturally, and shifts a person into feeling their power. That’s great healing, all around.

    Report comment

  2. Another stunning revelation that everyone should already know. It just goes to show how hard and consistently the psychiatric mainstream has worked to promote their “biological” theories that something like this should even have to be studied! Anyone who has experienced the powerlessness of being bullied and not knowing what to do and having the witnesses all join in or remain silence would instantly realize how demoralizing such an experience would be, especially if repeated.

    I wonder if they bothered to include teachers and staff in their count of bullies. The worst bullying I ever experienced in elementary school was from the teaching staff!

    —- Steve

    Report comment

    • Exactly; it’s so obvious that bullying and feelings of depression are associated. It’s always great to see the most in your face obvious things trumpeted as revelations by psychiatric researchers. Here are more things that are “linked” according to studies:

      – Getting hit by a car and having broken bones.

      – Being shot by a supersoaker and getting wet.

      – Not studying and getting worse grades.

      – Coming from a poorer family and not finishing high school.

      – Visiting a psychiatrist and feeling like you’ve entered an alien universe.

      – Reading the DSM 5 and having a lowering of your IQ score.

      – Reading the MIA In The News section and feeling that it should be renamed Captain Obvious’ Report on Psychiatric Research.


      Report comment

    • For a lot of people, the worst childhood bullying comes from within the family. When that happens, then add fear, panic, rage, despondence, confusion, and chaos–to say the very least– to the list of after-effects. That really leaves a person in no person’s land because what internalizes is an utter lack of safety everywhere, inside and out, chronically. So of course it will be re-created, until the abuse cycle is broken, which takes a great deal of challenging systems, given how stubborn they can be to remain static.

      As an adult, the worst bullies I ever saw were in the mental health system. Abuse of power is over the top, the order of the day, to the point where personal information is used against a person, like gossip, to create shame or the like, which, of course, disempowers a vulnerable and trusting person, trying to do the right thing for themselves.

      I think that’s where the stigma issue is most relevant. Systemic stigma is systemic bullying.

      What do we do when the mental health system–where people who’ve been bullied as kids go to heal from such things–are actually THE bullies? That’s the first place where it all repeats, and clients become victims of systemic bullying.

      No wonder it is a messy, messy field. They’ve gotten away with it for so long. I hope not for much longer, that people wise up to how it’s creating and embedding illness with its seriously bullying ways.

      Report comment

      • In fact, I remember when I was in graduate school, several of my classmates had younger siblings with a lot of issues, some even ‘marginalized’ (for lack of a better word, but they were definitely described as ‘fringe’)–which they talked about constantly, as their burden.

        So I started wondering if the family bullies go into the field to become martyrs. That’s how it felt, in any event, I remember how it really got my attention at that time. Now that I know more about the system, sure explains a lot.

        Report comment

        • And I just realized, to come back around to what you said, about teachers–wow, some of those psych professors, can we say, “Taken with themselves?” Oh yeah, bullies in so many ways. Controlling, dogging each other’s modalities, wielding power, avoiding students, yadayada.

          I even co-facilitated a mental health support group for a short time there, long after graduating, and the stories I heard made me really angry. Students were extremely confused and frustrated, and for good reason, from what I gathered. That was some serious narcissism leading to power abuses they would never recognize, it was so sop–how to stay in control ALL the time.

          I know I’m being very blunt, here, and I’m sorry to anyone in the field reading this, I don’t mean anything personally. But my experience was so brutal, due to the level of adult bullying I experienced and witnessed. This should never have happened, I navigated it all the way responsibly and aware, and with each step, came a few whacks or more. It was impossible to stay sane while I was trying to become healthy.

          And I knew the protocol, but the rest was chaos. All because of the systemic bullying, when trying to get your simple basic needs met. It was truly relentless.

          And yes, it was the catalyst for the second crisis, the one which I finally took to the end, into my wellness–20 years after it had begun, which was thwarted by psych drugs. Classic story.

          I had to forgive myself for giving my information so freely, I realize that was my mistake. I had no idea it would twisted around so cynically, so they had ‘power’ over me. I was naively trusting, as others have said remorsefully. That’s the category I was in. To me, that is professional bullying. Very clever.

          How on earth is that healing for anyone? It’s not. It’s atrocious. It’s deceitful. It lacks integrity. And it makes people sick. Live and learn. And that’s what I learned. And I know, with a certain amount of relief, that so have many others.

          When a bunch of people gang up to force someone to do things against his or her will, that is bullying in my book. Shoving or shooting drugs into someone’s system against their will is also bullying, to my mind. And, it’s legal, so add that field to the list of bully enablers.

          We should not have a high bar on what bullying is. That’s how it gets enabled and goes out of control, until people get really badly hurt, to the point of wanting to kill themselves. That’s pretty much what I’ve put together from my experience of this.

          Addressing the issue of bullying in the system, I believe, will save many lives.

          Report comment

          • I had a professor in college (chemistry) who used to set up the first test to be so tricky that most of the class failed. He then expected you to come into his office, where he sat in a chair behind a desk, and expected you to sit in a very comfortable chair that was about a foot and a half off the ground! The impression was very much of being a supplicant at the Delphic Oracle or some such power imbalance. I KNOW he enjoyed the spectacle of good students coming to him with their hats in hand and having to supplicate to him for relief. He was a total narcissist, and there was no protection or recourse.

            Of course, it was worse in elementary school, where among other things, my second grade teacher, after a typical bout of yelling at the class, threw a book across the kids’ heads and destroyed a poor kid’s diorama that he’d spent hours putting together. I was the shyest kid in the room and almost never spoke, but I was so incensed on my friend’s behalf that I stood up and said, “Miss Vaughn!” She came down the aisle, hit me in the back of the head, and threw me and the kid whose work she destroyed out in the hallway without any further instructions. Talk about bullying!!! But everyone knew she did these things, it was her reputation, and nothing ever happened to her as a result. I didn’t even bother telling my parents about it, it was so unsurprising to me. What a great message for kids – “speak up to an authority abusing her power, you get hit in the head and tossed out of class.” I wish I’d gone home and never come back again, but that did not seem possible at the time.

            Bullying by teachers is a poorly-kept secret, hidden only by the fact that we expect authorities to be abusive in our society. Same applies to mental health professionals, in my experience. If you have sufficient authority, bullying becomes “discipline” or “intervention” and the victim is always to blame for “forcing” you to use force on them.

            Report comment

          • “…we expect authority to be abusive in our society.”

            Powerful statement, Steve. I actually don’t expect that and not what I found when I was working in the mainstream. There was some of this, of course, over the years, but definitely not the rule in my environment.

            I was part of a management team for several years, and we would focus on morale, and keeping employees needs well met. They are the front lines of the operation, and if they are not happy, the business will suffer. So keeping them happy is win/win–not only is it humane and fair, but it is also good business.

            As a result, we had an extremely successful operation and hardly any turnover. Everyone was pretty happy at work, which was kind of a miracle, but this is one area where did succeed well, and it was specifically because we took into account employee needs. No one was out to use others for their personal gain and agenda, and to suck the energy out of them.

            Otherwise, I think you hit on a bit problem in academia and in health care–extreme narcissism does rule the roost. What you describe as the way some abusive adults can treat kids, when adults to this to other adults, it can be very tricky and clever, downright insidious, because the legal guidelines for this are quite vague. All the gaslighting and double binding that occurs, and outright deceit, just because one can get away with it. No moral compass, and they HATE to be challenged, or worse yet, to be wrong–about anything!

            Much of adult-to-adult abuse is also well-hidden, because it seems like standard procedure these days to humiliate people, shame them, and marginalize them, and overall provoke them to the point of driving them nuts, then saying, “Oh wow, you’re angry and crazy!”

            All of this is systemic bullying and it is an everyday occurrence now. Seems that people just love to shame others publically, makes them feel powerful, pure illusion of course. It’s actually the opposite, public shaming is the act of a coward.

            Power is found in humility and self-reflection. When we dog others, we can’t at all be happy with ourselves, wouldn’t make sense.

            Perhaps we should hold authority figures and leaders to the highest standard of humility. Of course, people would have to agree on what that means. Narcissism vs. humility can be so easily misconstrued, from our own wounding combined with the social distortions with which we’ve lived for so long. Hard to tell what is real and what is illusion. I guess time will continue to tell….

            Report comment

          • Been thinking about this one today, I did a good long meditation around it.

            To me, bullying is exactly what is wrong with society, where society has become ‘sick’–we’ve forgotten what it’s like to actually be appalled by overtly childish behaviors by adults. Screws things up, every single time.

            Adult bullies, to my mind, are walking talking toxic, and catch me on the wrong day, I’m not averse to being more specific.

            Personally, I’m so damn sick & tired of seeing it. Fortunately, I don’t have to. One thing I’ve learned, and which I always recommend to those who find themselves in stubbornly narcissistic bullying communities to RUN in the other direction, and don’t look back. There’s a better world out there, not all communities are like this.

            But I’ll be damned if not every single time I got even close to a mental health ANYTHING, there they were, the bully ring, saying one thing, but in reality, sabotaging anything that rang of truth. Their relentless ferocity and aggression about it (either overt or silently implied) is always palpable.

            I can only shake my head when I see this, because I know, in the end, what it means for that particular community. That kind of crap just can’t go on forever. Eventually, people wake up and speak out, and then change can FINALLY start to occur. Can’t be fast enough, as far as I’m concerned.

            Report comment