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Bullying and Mental Illness


A recent study confirms a linkage between bullying and mental illness. It has long been speculated that bullies are much more inclined to suffer from mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. Providing an actual scientific link for the reasons many young men and women act as bullies was recently studied by researchers at Brown University and the results shed new light on an unnerving subject.

Bullies are thought to act out for a variety of reasons.  Whether due to inadequate parental supervision as children or lack of proper authority and upbringing, children that become “bullies” often act out their aggression and dissatisfaction with their own lives on other innocent children. Researchers at Brown University analyzed survey responses from parents of nearly 64,000 children ages 6 to 17 who were identified as having a mental health disorder and those who were identified as bullies. According to the study, “those who were considered the bullies were more than twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder. They were also six times more likely to be diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, characterized by ongoing episodes of anger and hostility, especially towards authority figures, such as parents, teachers or other adults.” (ABCnews) Researchers were not surprised by the results and, according to Alan Hilfer, chief psychologist at Maimonedes Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., disorders such as ADHD, “often lead to impulsive and at times aggressive behaviors that are common among bullies.” (ABCnews)

Researchers hope their findings will offer as much to our understanding of bullies themselves as well as the victims of bullying. According to Hilfer, “bullies can be depressed, fearful and they often take out some of their anger and frustration on others down the pecking order.” (ABCnews) Whereas lots of media coverage today focuses on victims of bullying, more attention should be paid to the actual reasons why some children resort to becoming bullies to cope with the stressors of adolescent life. The bullies I have known in my life rarely had the same family infrastructure and support one would expect to find in a healthy child’s life. They took out their aggression on those unable to defend themselves, whether physically or psychologically, and used that power to embolden themselves and develop a “superior” identity.

Hilfer suggests that, “parents of bullies who are made aware of their child’s behavior should take the concerns seriously and seek help and treatments for their child, hopefully in the earlier stages so that alternative behaviors can be taught and reinforced before some of the more negative ones become entrenched.” (ABCnews) Proactively confronting bullies and attempting to help them acknowledge their destructive behaviors during the earlier stages of a child’s adolescent development is a pivotal step to help reduce the growing trends of bullying. Finding positive ways to help bullies, whether by improving self-esteem or helping a child from a poor upbringing understand the errors of their way will do great benefit to help our society to help us rid ourselves of the bullying epidemic.



ABCnews. Bullies Nearly Twice as Likely to Have Mental Health Disorder. n.d. <>.

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Filed under: Conditions and Disorders, Interviews with Recovery Professionals, Mental Illness, Research · Tags: bullies, bullying, link between mental illness and bullying, mental illness is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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