Some teens more prone to depression from bullying

Thursday, January 15, 2009
By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teenagers who are subjected to bullying and teasing are at risk of becoming depressed, but those from either low-income or wealthier families may be particularly vulnerable, new research hints.

The study of nearly 5,400 Swedish high school students found that those who said they'd often been ridiculed or teased were at greater risk of having symptoms of depression.

However, that risk was influenced by family "social status": bullying seemed to have more of an effect on teens from either low-income or high-income families than it did on their middle-class peers.

The findings suggest that teenagers from middle-income families -- who may feel "the same as everyone else" -- are somewhat protected from developing depression in response to bullying, said lead researcher Cecilia Aslund, of Uppsala University in Sweden.

It's likely, she told Reuters Health, that poorer and wealthier kids are more vulnerable for different reasons.

One possibility is that teenagers from high-income families have more demands on them to "be successful," Aslund and her colleagues note in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. That stress may make it more difficult to deal with the emotional effects of bullying.

Similarly, the chronic stress associated with lower social status may make low-income teens more vulnerable.

Aslund and her colleagues based their findings on surveys of 5,396 high school students who reported on any instances of verbal and emotional bullying they'd suffered in the past few months -- times that they'd been ridiculed or insulted in front of others.

The students also completed a standard questionnaire used to diagnose depression.

Overall, the study found, 21 percent of students were depressed. Teens who reported "many" instances of bullying were at greater risk, but that varied according to family income.

Teenagers from either low- or high-income families were five to seven times more likely to have depression symptoms than their peers from middle-income families who said they'd rarely been bullied.

The findings have implications for school programs aimed at preventing bullying and its consequences, Aslund said, since it's important for adults to be aware that certain kids may be more vulnerable to depression.

She also noted that, in general, higher family income is typically linked to lower risks of health-related problems in kids. But this study shows that this is not always the case.

SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, January 2009.