Bullying in school was associated with increased levels of anxiety for both victims and perpetrators, particularly for those involved on both sides of the issue, according to a study from China published in Psychiatry Research.
“School bullying is a worldwide phenomenon that threatens children and adolescents’ health and can take on various forms including verbal, physical, relational and cyberbullying,” Zepeng Gong, PhD, of the Shenzen Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, and colleagues wrote.
Researchers sought to investigate associations between bullying and subsequent anxiety in school-aged children and adolescents in an autonomous region of China.
The study included information gained through an online questionnaire issued to students encompassing grades four to six in December 2019, as well as to all students from middle, high and vocational schools in the Gansu province. From 2,005 students in the county, 1,943 completed the survey. Anxiety was measured using the seven-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7) with total scores ranging from 0 to 21, with scores of five, 10 and 15 used as cut-offs to determine mild, moderate and severe anxiety. Bullying assessments were made through a 10-situation survey regarding specific experiences and measured on a scale of 0 (never) to three (often) to assess if a student had either experienced bullying or bullied others.
Results showed that nearly one-third of respondents (31.39%) reported being bullied, while the prevalence of minimal, mild, moderate and severe levels of anxiety was 56.10%, 32.22%, 7.93%, and 3.76%, respectively.
Being a victim of verbal (OR, 3.08; 95% CI = 2.43 to 3.91), physical (OR, 3.24; 95% CI = 2.46 to 4.27), relational (OR, 3.72; 95% CI = 2.90 to 4.76) or cyberbullying (OR, 3.47; 95% CI = 2.61 to 4.61) was associated with increased symptoms of generalized anxiety.
Being a perpetrator of verbal (OR, 2.12; 95% CI = 1.45 to 3.10), physical (OR, 1.85; 95% CI = 1.22 to 2.79), relational (OR, 1.78; 95% CI = 1.15 to 2.74]), or cyber-bullying (OR, 1.59; 95% CI = 1.08 to 2.33) was related to a higher degree of anxiety.
Data additionally revealed that higher levels of anxiety in both victims and perpetrators were associated with a greater number of types of bullying they were involved in, suggesting a dose-response relationship between school bullying involvement and anxiety.
“It is imperative that students, teachers and parents work together to interrupt this vicious cycle at multiple points of intersection,” Gong and colleagues wrote.