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Childhood bullying and the association with psychosis in non-clinical and clinical samples: a review and meta-analysis

  • D. S. van Dam (a1), E. van der Ven (a2) (a3), E. Velthorst (a1), J. P. Selten (a2) (a3), C. Morgan (a4) (a5) and L. de Haan (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 09 March 2012

Approximately 11% of schoolchildren are bullied on a regular basis. It has been argued that continuous exposure to stress is related to the development of psychotic symptoms. The current study sought to investigate whether being bullied in childhood is related to the development of psychotic symptoms.


A search of PubMed, PsycINFO and EMBASE was conducted. The reference lists of included papers were searched to identify other eligible papers. A meta-analysis was performed on a subgroup of studies.


We found four clinical and 10 general population studies that met inclusion criteria. The results of the clinical studies were mixed. However, the results of the non-clinical studies provided more consistent evidence that school bullying is related to the development of non-clinical psychotic symptoms. Stronger associations were found with increased frequency and severity and longer duration of being bullied. We performed a meta-analysis on seven population-based studies, yielding unadjusted and adjusted odds ratios (ORs) of 2.7 [95% confidence interval (CI) 2.1–3.6] and 2.3 (95% CI 1.5–3.4) respectively.


Although there is some evidence of an association between bullying and psychosis in clinical samples, the research is too sparse to draw any firm conclusions. However, population-based non-clinical studies support the role of bullying in the development of psychotic symptoms later in life. These findings are consistent with findings of an increased risk of psychotic symptoms among those exposed to other types of abuse.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: D. S. van Dam, M.Sc., Department of Psychiatry, Early Psychosis Section, Academic Medical Centre, Meibergdreef 5, Room PA3-133, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (Email:
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