Being regularly bullied by a sibling could put children at risk of depression later in life, according to a study led by the University of Oxford in the UK.
Researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Warwick and Bristol and University College London sent questionnaires to thousands of families with children under the age of 12 between 2003 and 2004. Six years later they contacted them again to assess their mental health.
If the children have siblings, they were asked if they were bullied by them. Specifically, the questionnaire stated: «This means that when a brother or sister tries to anger you by saying nasty and hurtful things, or completely ignores you from their group of friends, hits, kicks, pushes, tells lies about, or makes up false rumors about you».
Previous research has suggested that victims of peer bullying may be more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and self-harm.
This study is the first to examine whether bullying by brothers or sisters in childhood causes the same psychiatric problems in early adulthood.
As the results came out, a charity said parents need to tackle sibling rivalry before it escalates.
«Twice as Likely»
Most of the 7,000 children surveyed said they had not experienced bullying. Of these, at age 18, 6.4% had symptoms of depression, 9.3% experienced anxiety, and 7.6% had self-harmed in the previous year.
The study found that 786 children who said they had been bullied by a sibling several times a week were twice as likely to have depression, self-harm and anxiety.
In this group, depression manifested itself in 12.3%, self-harm in 14%, and 16% of them reported anxiety.
Girls were slightly more likely to be victims of sibling bullying than boys, especially in families with three or more children.
Older siblings often turned out to be responsible.
On average, victims said the sibling bullying had started at the age of eight, according to the study.
More than teasing
The study’s lead author, Lucy Bowes, from the department of social policy and intervention at the University of Oxford, said that while she couldn’t say that the bullying caused the depression, the result was significant.
«We have to change our approach to this. If this situation occurs in a school environment, there will be repercussions,» he says.
«It may be doing long-term damage. We need to do more research, but we also need parents to listen to their children,» he added.
He added: «We are not talking about the kind of pranks that often run in 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».
Emma Jane Cross, from the bullying prevention charity Beatbullying, said: «Being bullied as a child can have a devastating effect that lasts a lifetime. Parents who are concerned about this issue should speak to their children as soon as possible. as possible before the problem escalates.
«It’s important to address the underlying issues behind more frequent bullying rather than dismissing it as normal sibling rivalry.»