Skip to main content Accessibility help

Bullying victimization in youths and mental health problems: ‘Much ado about nothing’?

  • L. Arseneault (a1), L. Bowes (a1) and S. Shakoor (a1)


Bullying victimization is a topic of concern for youths, parents, school staff and mental health practitioners. Children and adolescents who are victimized by bullies show signs of distress and adjustment problems. However, it is not clear whether bullying is the source of these difficulties. This paper reviews empirical evidence to determine whether bullying victimization is a significant risk factor for psychopathology and should be the target of intervention and prevention strategies. Research indicates that being the victim of bullying (1) is not a random event and can be predicted by individual characteristics and family factors; (2) can be stable across ages; (3) is associated with severe symptoms of mental health problems, including self-harm, violent behaviour and psychotic symptoms; (4) has long-lasting effects that can persist until late adolescence; and (5) contributes independently to children's mental health problems. This body of evidence suggests that efforts aimed at reducing bullying victimization in childhood and adolescence should be strongly supported. In addition, research on explanatory mechanisms involved in the development of mental health problems in bullied youths is needed.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: L. Arseneault, Ph.D., MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Box Number P080, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. (Email:


Hide All
Ananiadou, K, Smith, PK (2002). Legal requirements and nationally circulated materials against school bullying in European countries. Criminal Justice 2, 471491.
APA (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edn. American Psychiatric Association: Washington, DC.
Arseneault, L, Kim-Cohen, J, Taylor, A, Caspi, A, Moffitt, TE (2005). Psychometric evaluation of 5- and 7-year-old children's self-reports of conduct problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 33, 537550.
Arseneault, L, Walsh, E, Trzesniewski, K, Newcombe, R, Caspi, A, Moffitt, TE (2006). Bullying victimization uniquely contributes to adjustment problems in young children: a nationally representative cohort study. Pediatrics 118, 130138.
Arseneault, L, Milne, BJ, Taylor, A, Adams, F, Delgado, K, Caspi, A, Moffitt, TE (2008). Being bullied as an environmentally mediated contributing factor to children's internalizing problems. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 162, 145150.
Baldry, AC (2003). Bullying in schools and exposure to domestic violence. Child Abuse and Neglect 27, 713732.
Baldry, AC, Winkel, FW (2003). Direct and vicarious victimization at school and at home as risk factors for suicide cognition among Italian adolescents. Journal of Adolescence 26, 703716.
Ball, H, Arseneault, L, Taylor, A, Maughan, B, Caspi, A, Moffitt, TE (2008). Genetic and environmental influences on victims, bullies and bully-victims in childhood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 49, 104112.
Barker, ED, Arseneault, L, Brendgen, M, Fontaine, N, Maughan, B (2008 a). Joint development of bullying and victimization in adolescence: relation to delinquency and self-harm. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 47, 10301038.
Barker, ED, Boivin, M, Brendgen, M, Fontaine, N, Arseneault, L, Vitaro, F, Bissonnette, C, Tremblay, RE (2008 b). The predictive validity and early predictors of peer victimization trajectories in preschool. Archives of General Psychiatry 65, 11851192.
Barnes, J, Belsky, J, Broomfield, K, Melhuish, E, the NESS Research Team (2006). Neighbourhood deprivation, school disorder and academic achievement in primary schools in deprived communities in England. International Journal of Behavioral Development 30, 127136.
Bauer, NS, Lozano, P, Rivara, FP (2007). The effectiveness of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in public middle schools: a controlled trial. Journal of Adolescent Health 40, 266274.
Bebbington, PE, Bhugra, D, Brugha, T, Singleton, N, Farrell, M, Jenkins, R, Lewis, G, Meltzer, H (2004). Psychosis, victimisation and childhood disadvantage: evidence from the second British National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity. British Journal of Psychiatry 185, 220226.
Beran, TN, Violato, C (2004). A model of childhood perceived peer harassment: analyses of the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth Data. Journal of Psychology 138, 129147.
Brendgen, M, Boivin, M, Vitaro, F, Girard, A, Dionne, G, Pérusse, D (2008). Gene–environment interaction between peer victimization and child aggression. Development and Psychopathology 20, 455471.
Bjorkqvist, K, Lagerspetz, KMJ, Kaukiainen, A (1992). Do girls manipulate and boys fight? Developmental trends in regard to direct and indirect aggression. Aggressive Behavior 18, 117127.
Boivin, M, Hymel, S (1997). Peer experiences and social self-perception: a sequential model. Developmental Psychology 33, 135145.
Bond, L, Carlin, JB, Thomas, L, Rubin, K, Patton, G (2001). Does bullying cause emotional problems? A prospective study of young teenagers. British Medical Journal 323, 480484.
Bowes, L, Arseneault, L, Maughan, B, Taylor, A, Caspi, A, Moffitt, TE (2009). School, neighborhood and family factors are associated with children's bullying involvement: a nationally-representative longitudinal study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 48, 545553.
Campbell, ML, Morrison, AP (2007). The relationship between bullying, psychotic-like experiences and appraisals in 14–16-year olds. Behavior Research and Therapy 45, 15791591.
Crick, NR, Casas, JF, Ku, HC (1999). Relational and physical forms of peer victimization in preschool. Developmental Psychology 35, 376385.
Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009). Safe from Bullying: Guidance for Local Authorities and Other Strategic Leaders on Reducing Bullying in the Community. Department for Children, Schools and Families: Nottingham.
Dodge, KA, Bates, JE, Pettit, GS (1990). Mechanisms in the cycle of violence. Science 250, 16781683.
Egan, SK, Perry, DG (1998). Does low self-regard invite victimization? Developmental Psychology 34, 299309.
Egeland, B, Kalkoske, M, Gottesman, N, Erickson, MF (1990). Preschool behavior problems: stability and factors accounting for change. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 31, 891909.
Finkelhor, D, Ormrod, RK, Turner, HA (2007). Re-victimization patterns in a national longitudinal sample of children and youth. Child Abuse and Neglect 31, 479502.
Forero, R, McLellan, L, Rissel, C, Bauman, A (1999). Bullying behaviour and psychosocial health among school students in New South Wales, Australia: cross sectional survey. British Medical Journal 319, 344348.
Hawker, DS, Boulton, MJ (2000). Twenty years' research on peer victimization and psychosocial maladjustment: a meta-analytic review of cross-sectional studies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 41, 441455.
Heim, C, Newport, DJ, Heit, S, Graham, YP, Wilcox, M, Bonsall, R, Miller, AH, Nemeroff, CB (2000). Pituitary-adrenal and autonomic responses to stress in women after sexual and physical abuse in childhood. Journal of the American Medical Association 284, 593597.
Herba, CM, Ferdinand, RF, Stijnen, T, Veenstra, R, Oldehinkel, AJ, Omel, J, Verhulst, FC (2008). Victimization and suicide ideation in the TRAILS study: specific vulnerabilities of victims. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 49, 867876.
Hodges, EV, Perry, DG (1999). Personal and interpersonal antecedents and consequences of victimization by peers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 76, 677685.
Jaffee, SR, Caspi, A, Moffitt, TE, Taylor, A (2004). Physical maltreatment victim to antisocial child: evidence of an environmentally mediated process. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 113, 4455.
Jaffee, SR, Moffitt, TE, Caspi, A, Taylor, A, Arseneault, L (2002). Influence of adult domestic violence on children's internalizing and externalizing problems: an environmentally informative twin study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 41, 10951103.
Janssen, I, Krabbendam, L, Bak, M, Hanssen, M, Vollebergh, W, de Graaf, R, van Os, J (2004). Childhood abuse as a risk factor for psychotic experiences. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 109, 3845.
Juvonen, J, Graham, S, Schuster, MA (2003). Bullying among young adolescents: the strong, the weak, and the troubled. Pediatrics 112, 12311237.
Kaltiala-Heino, R, Rimpela, M, Rantanen, P, Rimpela, A (2000). Bullying at school – an indicator of adolescents at risk for mental disorders. Journal of Adolescence 23, 661674.
Karatzias, A, Power, KG, Swanson, V (2002). Bullying and victimisation in Scottish secondary schools: same or separate entities? Aggressive Behavior 28, 4561.
Kelleher, I, Harley, M, Lynch, F, Arseneault, L, Fitzpatrick, C, Cannon, M (2008). Associations between childhood trauma, bullying and psychotic symptoms among a school-based adolescent sample. British Journal of Psychiatry 193, 378382.
Kim, YS, Koh, YJ, Leventhal, B (2005). School bullying and suicidal risk in Korean middle school students. Pediatrics 115, 357363.
Kim, YS, Leventhal, BL, Koh, YJ, Hubbard, A, Boyce, WT (2006). School bullying and youth violence: causes or consequences of psychopathologic behavior? Archives of General Psychiatry 63, 10351041.
Kim-Cohen, J, Caspi, A, Moffitt, TE, Harrington, H, Milne, BJ, Poulton, R (2003). Prior juvenile diagnoses in adults with mental disorder: developmental follow-back of a prospective-longitudinal cohort. Archives of General Psychiatry 60, 709717.
Kim-Cohen, J, Moffitt, TE, Caspi, A, Taylor, A (2004). Genetic and environmental processes in young children's resilience and vulnerability to socioeconomic deprivation. Child Development 75, 651668.
Kinderman, P, Bentall, RP (1996). A new measure of causal locus: the internal, personal and situational attributions questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences 20, 261264.
Klomek, AB, Sourander, A, Niemela, S, Kumpulainen, K, Piha, J, Tamminen, T, Almqvist, F, Gould, MS (2009). Childhood bullying behaviors as a risk for suicide attempts and completed suicides: a population-based birth cohort study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 48, 254261.
Kumpulainen, K, Räsänen, E (2000). Children involved in bullying at elementary school age: their psychiatric symptoms and deviance in adolescence: an epidemiological sample. Child Abuse and Neglect 24, 15671577.
Kumpulainen, K, Räsänen, E, Henttonen, I (1999). Children involved in bullying: psychological disturbance and the persistence of the involvement. Child Abuse and Neglect 23, 12531262.
Ladd, G, Kochenderfer-Ladd, B (2002). Identifying victims of peer aggression from early to middle childhood: analysis of cross-informant data for concordance, estimation of relational adjustment, prevalence of victimization and characteristics of identified victims. Psychological Assessment 14, 7496.
Ladd, GW, Troop-Gordon, W (2003). The role of chronic peer difficulties in the development of children's psychological adjustment problems. Child Development 74, 13441367.
Lataster, T, van Os, J, Drukker, M, Henquet, C, Feron, F, Gunther, N, Myin-Germeys, I (2006). Childhood victimisation and development expression of non-clinical delusional ideation and hallucinatory experiences: victimisation and non-clinical psychotic experiences. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 41, 423428.
Liang, H, Flisher, AJ, Lombard, CJ (2007). Bullying, violence, and risk behaviour in South African school students. Child Abuse and Neglect 31, 161171.
Lund, R, Nielsen, KK, Hansen, DH, Kriegbaum, M, Molbo, D, Due, P, Christensen, U (2009). Exposure to bullying at school and depression in adulthood: a study of Danish men born in 1953. European Journal of Public Health 19, 111116.
Masten, AS, Shaffer, A (2006). How families matter in child development: reflection from research on risk and resilience. In Families Count: Effects on Child and Adolescent Development (ed. Clarke-Stewart, A. and Dunn, J.), pp. 525. Cambridge University Press: New York.
Mayeux, L, Underwood, MK, Risser, SD (2009). Perspectives on the ethics of sociometric research with children: how children, peers, and teachers help to inform the debate. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 53, 5378.
Mynard, H, Joseph, S (1997). Bully/victim problems and their association with Eysenck's personality dimensions in 8-13 year olds. British Journal of Educational Psychology 67, 5154.
Moffitt, TE (1993). ‘Life-course-persistent’ and ‘adolescence-limited’ antisocial behavior: a developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review 100, 674701.
Moffitt, TE (2005). The new look of behavioral genetics in developmental psychopathology: gene–environment interplay in antisocial behaviors. Psychological Bulletin 4, 533544.
Moffitt, TE, Caspi, A, Harrington, H, Milne, BJ (2002 a). Males on the life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited antisocial pathways: follow-up at age 26 years. Development and Psychopathology 14, 179207.
Moffitt, TE, Caspi, A, Rutter, M, Silva, PA (2001). Sex Differences in Antisocial Behaviour: Conduct Disorder, Delinquency, and Violence in the Dunedin Longitudinal Study. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Moffitt, TE, E-Risk Study Team (2002 b). Teen-aged mothers in contemporary Britain. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 43, 727742.
Nansel, TR, Craig, W, Overpeck, MD, Saluja, G, Ruan, WJ, Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Bullying Analyses Working Group (2004). Cross-national consistency in the relationship between bullying behaviors and psychosocial adjustment. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 158, 730736.
Nansel, TR, Overpeck, MD, Haynie, DL, Ruan, WJ, Scheidt, PC (2003). Relationships between bullying and violence among US youth. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 157, 348353.
Nansel, TR, Overpeck, M, Pilla, RS, Ruan, WJ, Simons-Morton, B, Scheidt, P (2001). Bullying behaviors among US youth: prevalence and association with psychosocial adjustment. Journal of the American Medical Association 285, 20942100.
Oliver, C, Candappa, M (2003). Tackling Bullying: Listening to the Views of Children and Young People. Department for Education and Skills: Nottingham.
Olweus, D (1991). Bully/victim problems among school children: basic facts and effects of a school-based intervention program. In The Development and Treatment of Childhood Aggression (ed. Pepler, D. J. and Rubin, K. H.), pp. 411448. Lawrence Erlbaum: New Jersey.
Olweus, D (1993 a). Bullying at School. Blackwell: Cambridge.
Olweus, D (1993 b). Victimization by peers: antecedents and long-term outcomes. In Social Withdrawal, Inhibition and Shyness in Childhood (ed. Rubin, K. H. and Asendorpf, J. B.), pp. 315342. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: New Jersey.
Olweus, D (1994). Bullying at school: basic facts and effects of a school based intervention program. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 35, 11711190.
Olweus, D (2007). The Olweus Bullying Questionnaire. Hazelden: Center City, MN.
Olweus, D (in press). Understanding and researching bullying: some critical issues. In The International Handbook of School Bullying (ed. Jimerson, S. R., Swearer, S. M. and Espelage, D. L.. Routledge: New York.
Pepler, DJ, Craig, WM (1995). A peek behind the fence: naturalistic observations of aggressive children with remote audiovisual recording. Developmental Psychology 31, 548553.
Pollak, SD (2003). Experience-dependent affective learning and risk for psychopathology in children. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1008, 102111.
Pollak, SD, Sinha, P (2002). Effects of early experience on children's recognition of facial displays of emotion. Developmental Psychology 38, 784791.
Rhee, SH, Waldman, ID (2002). Genetic and environmental influences on antisocial behaviour: a meta-analysis of twin and adoption studies. Psychological Bulletin 128, 490529.
Rigby, K (2002). New Perspectives on Bullying. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London.
Rivers, I, Smith, PK (1994). Types of bullying behaviour and their correlates. Aggressive Behavior 20, 359368.
Robins, LN (1978). Sturdy childhood predictors of adult antisocial behaviour: replications from longitudinal studies. Psychological Medicine 8, 611622.
Ronning, JA, Sourander, A, Kumpulainen, K, Tamminen, T, Niemela, S, Moilanen, I, Helenius, H, Piha, J, Almqvist, F (2009). Cross-informant agreement about bullying and victimization among eight-year-olds: whose information best predicts psychiatric caseness 10–15 years later? Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 44, 1522.
Rutter, M (2007). Identifying the environmental causes of disease: how should we decide what to believe and when to take action? [Report] Academy of Medical Sciences: London.
Rutter, M, Silberg, J, O'Connor, T, Simonoff, E (1999). Genetics and child psychiatry. II. Empirical research findings. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 40, 1955.
Salmivalli, C, Peets, K (2009). Bullies, victims, and bully-victim relationships in middle childhood and early adolescence. In Handbook of Peer Interactions, Relationships, and Groups (ed. Rubin, K. H., Bukowski, W. M. and Laurens, B.), pp. 322340. Guilford Press: New York.
Scholte, RH, Engels, RC, Overbeek, G, de Kemp, RA, Haselager, GJ (2007). Stability in bullying and victimization and its association with social adjustment in childhood and adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 35, 217228.
Schreier, A, Wolke, D, Thomas, K, Horwood, J, Hollis, C, Gunnell, D, Lewis, G, Thompson, A, Zammit, S, Duffy, L, Salvi, G, Harrison, G (2009). Prospective study of peer victimization in childhood and psychotic symptoms in a nonclinical population at age 12 years. Archives of General Psychiatry 66, 527536.
Shields, A, Cicchetti, D (2001). Parental maltreatment and emotion dysregulation as risk factors for bullying and victimization in middle childhood. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology 30, 349363.
Smith, PK, Levan, S (1995). Perceptions and experiences of bullying in younger pupils. British Journal of Educational Psychology 65, 489500.
Smith, PK, Ananiadou, K, Cowie, H (2003). Interventions to reduce school bullying. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 48, 591599.
Smith, PK, Mahdavi, J, Carvalho, M, Fisher, S, Russell, S, Tippett, N (2008). Cyberbullying: its nature and impact in secondary schools. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 49, 376385.
Smith, PK, Shu, S (2000). What good schools can do about bullying: findings from a survey in English schools after a decade of research and action. Childhood 7, 193212.
Snyder, J, Booker, E, Patrick, MR, Snyder, AZ, Schrepferman, L, Stoolmiller, M (2003). Observed peer victimization during elementary school: continuity, growth, and relation to risk for child antisocial and depressive behavior. Child Development 74, 18811898.
Sourander, A, Helstela, L, Helenius, H, Piha, J (2000). Persistence of bullying from childhood to adolescence: a longitudinal 8-year follow-up study. Child Abuse and Neglect 24, 873881.
Sourander, A, Jensen, P, Ronning, JA, Niemela, S, Helenius, H, Sillanmaki, L, Kumpulainen, K, Piha, J, Tamminen, T, Moilanen, I, Almqvist, F (2007 a). What is the early adulthood outcome of boys who bully or are bullied in childhood? The Finnish ‘From a Boy to a Man’ study. Pediatrics 120, 397404.
Sourander, A, Jensen, P, Ronning, JA, Elonheimo, H, Niemela, S, Helenius, H, Kumpulainen, K, Piha, J, Tamminen, T, Moilanen, I, Almqvist, F (2007 b). Childhood bullies and victims and their risk of criminality in late adolescence: the Finnish From a Boy to a Man study. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 161, 546552.
Tolan, PH (2004). International trends in bullying and children's health: giving them due consideration. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 158, 831832.
Ttofi, MM, Farrington, DP (2009). What works in preventing bullying? Effective elements of anti-bullying programmes. Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research 1, 1324.
van der Valk, JC, van den Oord, EJ, Verhulst, FC, Boomsma, DI (2003). Genetic and environmental contributions to stability and change in children's internalizing and externalizing problems. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 42, 12121220.
van der Wal, MF, de Wit, CAM, Hirasing, RA (2003). Psychosocial health among young victims and offenders of direct and indirect bullying. Pediatrics 111, 13121317.
Veenstra, R, Lindenberg, S, Oldehinkel, AJ, De Winter, AF, Verhulst, FC, Ormel, J (2005). Bullying and victimization in elementary schools: a comparison of bullies, victims, bully/victims, and uninvolved preadolescents. Developmental Psychology 41, 672682.
Veenstra, R, Lindenberg, S, Zijlstra, BJ, De Winter, AF, Verhulst, FC, Ormel, J (2007). The dyadic nature of bullying and victimization: testing a dual-perspective theory. Child Development 78, 18431854.
Vreeman, RC, Carroll, AE (2007). A systematic review of school based interventions to prevent bullying. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 161, 7888.
Whitney, I, Smith, PK (1993). A survey of the nature and extent of bullying in junior/middle and secondary schools. Education Research 35, 325.
Wienke Totura, CM, Green, AE, Karver, MS, Gesten, EL (2009). Multiple informants in the assessment of psychological, behavioral, and academic correlates of bullying and victimization in middle school. Journal of Adolescence 32, 193211.
Wolke, D, Woods, S, Stanford, K, Schulz, H (2001). Bullying and victimization of primary school children in England and Germany: prevalence and school factors. British Journal of Psychology 92, 673696.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Bullying victimization in youths and mental health problems: ‘Much ado about nothing’?

  • L. Arseneault (a1), L. Bowes (a1) and S. Shakoor (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.