New Study Links Bullying with Internalized Problems for US Adolescents

December 6, 2019

Investigators examine data from 13,200 adolescents to discover the association between bullying perpetration with internalizing problems.

Marine Azevedo Da Silva, PhD

In an effort to reduce bullying, investigators are looking at the association between the perpetration of bullying and internalized problems amongst US adolescents.

A team of investigators, led by Marine Azevedo Da Silva, PhD, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, examined the bidirectional association between the bullying perpetration and internalized problems amongst adolescents in the US.

The investigators procured data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health, a prospective cohort study with a nationally representative sample of youth in the US.

They used both the first wave, which occurred from September 12, 2013-December 14, 2014, and the second wave, which occurred between October 23, 2014-October 30, 2015, of the study.

Overall, the team analyzed the associations of bullying perpetration with internalizing problems using binary and multinomial logistic regression with 13,200 adolescents between 12-17 years old.

“There was a cross-sectional association between bullying perpetration and moderate/high lifetime internalizing problems (OR moderate vs. no/low, 3.13; 95% CI, 2.67—3.65; and OR high vs. no/low, 8.77; 95% CI 7.53–10.20),” the authors wrote. “In the prospective analyses, bullying perpetration was associated with increased likelihood of moderate/high internalizing problems at follow-up (OR moderate vs. no/low, 1.49; 95% CI 1.15–1.94; and OR high vs. no/low, 1.71; 95% CI 1.23–2.38), and youth with moderate/high internalizing problems had higher odds of bullying perpetration at follow-up (OR moderate 1.95; 95% CI 1.65–2.31; and OR high, 3.21; 95% CI 2.74–3.76).”

According to the researchers, by identifying the temporal patterns of associations between bullying perpetration mental health problems among adolescents, they could target new practices for bullying intervention and ultimately prevention.

“The association between bullying perpetration and internalizing problems appears to be bidirectional,” the authors wrote. “Bullying behaviors prevention and intervention strategies among youth should consider how to take into account and handle negative feelings and mental health problems.”

Earlier this year, Sandra Pimentel, PhD, chief of Child and Adolescent Psychology at Montefiore, associate director of Psychology Training, and associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, explained in an interview with MD Magazine® how anti-bullying policies are making an impact.

“We need to shift the perception of suicide from a personal failing to a public health crisis, especially for vulnerable groups,” she said. “We have to treat it as public health concern with a public health response—using policies that we know work, and evidence-based science.

“We know that anti-bullying policies that specifically protect LGBTQ youth work,” she added. “We know that opening up access to healthcare would help more people access mental health resources. We know we have to work to correct health disparities for vulnerable groups.”

The study, “Bidirectional Association Between Bullying Perpetration and Internalizing Problems Among Youth,” was published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.