Sibling bullying linked to poor mental health years later

YORK, United Kingdom — Most people who grew up with brothers or sisters knows sibling relationships aren’t always picture perfect. A sibling can be your best friend one minute, and your worst enemy the next. Now, however, researchers from the University of York find that children who consistently bully a sibling at a young age can push their brother or sister towards a greater risk of mental health and overall well-being issues later on in adolescence.

Study authors looked at data on over 17,000 people during this project. The team concludes that as sibling-bullying frequency increases during early-to-middle adolescence, so does the severity of mental health issues in that child’s late teenage years.

Bullying can be bad for both siblings

Notably, the research also indicates bullying during early adolescence, for both the victim and perpetrator, has a long-term effect on positive and negative mental health as they grow up. It’s worth mentioning that many sibling-bullying relationships can switch back and forth, with one sibling taking on the role of bully one day and then being on the receiving end the next.

“Whilst sibling bullying has previously been linked to poor mental health outcomes, it was not known whether there is a relationship between the persistence of sibling bullying and the severity of mental health outcome, in the longer term,” says lead study author Dr. Umar Toseeb in a university release.

“In the first study of its kind, we comprehensively investigated a whole range of mental health outcomes, which included measures of both positive (eg wellbeing and self-esteem) and negative (eg symptoms of psychological distress) mental health,” he adds. “Of particular note was the finding that even those who bullied their siblings, but weren’t bullied themselves (ie the bullies) had poorer mental health outcomes years later.”

In conclusion, study authors recommend that mental health services and interventions for young people focus specifically on addressing and reducing instances of sibling bullying.

The participants involved in this research filled out surveys on their personal experiences with sibling bullying at ages 11 and 14. Then, each subject answered a mental health questionnaire at age 17. Each child’s parents also filled out surveys on their son’s or daughter’s mental health at ages 11, 14, and 17.

The study appears in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 

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John Anderer

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