December 6, 2021


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The relationship between self-harm and bullying in adolescents

Self-harm is a major public health problem and adolescents are particularly at risk. In a newly released paper in BMC Public Health Authors Ingri Myklestad and Melanie Straiton studied the relationship between self-harm and bullying behavior in adolescents.

Self-injury is often the result of a complex interplay of genetic, biological, psychological and environmental factors. Bullying is one aspect that can increase the risk of self-harm. However, not all bullied teens hurt themselves.

Bullies are also at risk

It is not only being a victim of bullying that is linked to self-harm, but also being a bullying aggressor. In fact, in our study, we found that teens who are both bullies and bullied by their peers (the victims of bullies) were the group most vulnerable to self-harm. They were six times more likely to self-harm than teens who were neither bullied nor intimidated.

It is possible that “victims of bullying” have the broadest range of coping problems, presenting challenges common to both bullies and victims. An earlier study found that many victims of bullying have been bullied first and then begin to bully their peers later in their teens. Thus, they suffer from both emotional and behavioral problems.

Why is there a relationship between self-harm and bullying behavior?

Both victimization and self-harm are associated with emotional issues such as anxiety and depression. In our study, we found that emotional issues and parental conflict were important factors in the association between bullying teens and self-harm, and between bullying and self-harm victims.

Our study found that behavioral problems in school also explained part of the relationship between self-harm and bullies, and self-harm and victims of bullying. This confirms the idea that the act of bullying is part of a larger concept of behavior problems with aggressive and delinquent behavior, school failure and dropping out.

Parental support and school well-being

School well-being (including teacher support) protected abusers and victims from self-harm

While we see that those who are bullied and / or bullied may be more likely to self-harm, we know that not all people are bullied or bullied. So we investigated what might protect against self-harm among bullies, bullies and bullies. We found that while parental support had a protective effect on self-harm in boys and girls in general, it was especially important for those who are bullied.

This shows that willingness to speak up and ask parents for help during a difficult time such as bullying can protect against self-harm in teens.

We were also surprised to find that the well-being of the school (including teacher support) protected those who were bullied and self-harmed. Our result appears to be the first to investigate the buffering effect of academic well-being on bullying and self-injurious behaviors in adolescents. This is an important finding for the prevention of self-injury. Schools, parents and healthcare professionals need to be aware of the importance of academic well-being for bullied adolescents, in terms of identifying those at risk of self-harm.

How common is self-harm?

Our study showed that fifteen percent of participating adolescents reported self-harm in the past year. This is consistent with previous studies which concluded that the 12-month prevalence rate was between the world.

Who took part in the study?

The data we used in this study were the “UngdataWhich is a large cross-sectional national survey, designed for adolescents. A total of 14,093 adolescents aged 12-19 from different parts of Norway participated in the study; that was 87% of those invited to participate.

Our data was collected at some point in time, so we don’t know if the bullying happened before the self-harm. However, the longitudinal precedents studies have shown that bullying increases the risk of self-harm, not the other way around.

How we measured self-harm and harassment

We measured self-harm by asking if teens had tried to harm themselves in the past 12 months. Bullying was measured by asking teens if they had been teased, threatened or frozen by other young people at school, in their spare time, online or on their cellphones. Bullying from other peers was measured by asking them if they had participated in teasing, threatening, or freezing other young people at school, in their spare time, online or by cell phone. We created a new variable to measure those who are both bullied and who bully others (bullied), by combining the variables “bullied” and “bullying other peers”.


High levels of parental support and well-being in school can lessen the harmful relationship between bullying behavior and self-harm

There is a strong link between bullying and self-harm. Interventions to combat bullying can reduce self-harm. Our results also suggest that high levels of parental support and well-being in school may lessen the harmful relationship between bullying behavior and self-harm. Addressing these factors may be important to reduce the risk of self-harm in people who are bullied.

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