A fair amount of rivalry is common among siblings, especially in their childhood and adolescence. However, if one sibling is constantly bullied by the other, then things could take an ugly turn. According to a new study published in Psychological Medicine journal, being victimized during formative years by an older sibling could lead to the development of psychotic disorders.
It even revealed that people who were bullied by siblings during childhood were up to 3 times more likely to suffer from mental health issues like schizophrenia in early adulthood.
Bullying Among Siblings
Siblings are the first friends one makes in life. It has been estimated that by middle childhood, children interact more with their brothers and sisters in comparison to their parents. Siblings fulfill the roles of caregivers, friends, and guides in one’s life. Positive sibling ties promote the acquisition of skills that are important in cognitive development. They also serve as a source of emotional support during various adverse life events.
On the other hand, past studies have confirmed that sibling relationships that are aggressive with frequent bullying can be dangerous to the mental health of children. This can manifest as adjustment, behavioral, and emotional problems.
Researchers from the University of Warwick conducted the current study in order to gain more insight into how bullying put both the bully and the victim at a high risk of psychotic disorders.
About 3,600 children participated in the study. They underwent detailed questionnaires, face-to-face interviews, and psychological and physical tests from the age of 7 in the assessment clinics. Sibling bullying was assessed at 12 years via a standard sibling bullying questionnaire. Children were questioned whether they were ever bullied (victimization) or had ever bullied (perpetration) their brother or sister in the past 6 months.
Responses from the children were measured on the scale:
- Only once or twice
- 2 or 3 times a month
- About once a week and
- Several times a week
Based on the frequency of being a victim or a bully, the children were classified as victims, bullies, bully-victims and noninvolved. To diagnose the psychotic disorder in early adulthood, a face-to-face “Psychosis-like Symptoms Interview” was conducted at the age of 17 years.
Significant Results From The Study
The following results were derived from the study:
- Out of all children, 771 were bully-victims (victimized by siblings and bullied their siblings), 664 were pure victims and 486 were pure bullies.
- Children who were victimized at both home and school had greater odds of suffering a psychotic disorder.
- Any kind of involvement in sibling bullying was associated with an increased risk of psychotic disorder years later. This trend was prominent among pure victims and bully-victims.
- Girls were more often the victims when compared with boys. However, no gender difference was found for sibling bullying perpetration.
- Both bullies and victimized kids were found to have lower IQ and internalized and externalized problems.
- Pure victims were frequently bullied by peers at school too. They were usually later born and had older brothers.
- Mothers of victimized children had a history of depression scores in pregnancy, were more often exposed to domestic violence.
- Perpetrators were more often first-born and came from families with mothers with higher depression scores in pregnancy, more siblings in the household, suffered maltreatment and were less likely to have older sisters.
According to the lead author Slava Dantchev,
“In fact, those who engaged in bullying either as a bully or victim a few times a week or month were two to three times more likely to develop such illnesses. If the bullying occurs at home and at school the risk for psychotic disorder is even higher. These adolescents have no safe place.”
Kids who were victimized both by their siblings and schoolmates were 4 times more vulnerable to psychotic disorders. While those who engaged in bullying a few times a week or month were about 3 times more likely to develop mental illnesses.
The study highlights the need for parents and health professionals to discourage any form of bullying among siblings for the sake of their mental well-being