The Link Between Genetics, Depression And Being Bullied In Childhood

By Kelly Burch 07/11/19

Researchers found that bullying affected mental health in the short and long term. 

child being bullied

People who are bullied as children and who have a genetic predisposition for depression are more likely to become depressed adults, according to a recent study that looked at the interplay between environmental and genetic factors in developing depression. 

The study, published in JAMA Open Network, found that there is a complex interplay between environmental and genetic risk factors. Many factors are at play in determining a person’s risk for depression. 

Researchers found that bullying affected mental health in the short and long term. 

“Our findings highlight that being bullied in childhood is associated with both short-term and long-term consequences. Whether exposure to bullying has a lasting effect may depend on genetic liabilities to depression and bullying,” study authors wrote. 

Risk Factors

Speaking with Medical Xpress, study author Alex Kwong said that understanding that bullying is a risk factor can help identify children who may need additional mental health support as they grow. 

"It's important that we know if some children are more at risk of depression long after any childhood bullying has occurred,” Kwong said. “Our study found that young adults who were bullied as children were eight times more likely to experience depression that was limited to childhood. However, some children who were bullied showed greater patterns of depression that continued into adulthood and this group of children also showed genetic liability and family risk.”

Dr. Rebecca Pearson, who studies psychiatric epidemiology, said that the results from the study can help guide professionals in spotting at-risk children. 

"The results can help us to identify which groups of children are most likely to suffer ongoing symptoms of depression into adulthood and which children will recover across adolescence,” she said. “For example, the results suggest that children with multiple risk factors (including family history and bullying) should be targeted for early intervention but that when risk factors such as bullying occur insolation, symptoms of depression may be less likely to persist."

Environment vs Genetics

Study authors pointed out that it is difficult to understand exactly how genetic and environmental factors come together to influence risk for depression. 

“For example, stressful life events may cause more severe depression symptoms, but it is possible that genetically liable individuals may be more prone to stressful life events, thus making it hard to determine the direction of effects,” study authors wrote.

“Therefore, while we cannot yet separate whether a risk factor operates through genetic or environmental mechanisms, examining both genetic and environmental risk factors could build better prediction models and provide a new understanding that could be translated into improved prevention and interventions.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.