Mental illness, bullying common among those born prematurely: Study

Mental illness, bullying common among those born prematurely: Study

Babies born prematurely are a miracle in themselves. Such children are often more special to people around them as their birth defied the laws of nature. Preterm babies generally have an extremely low birth weight (ELBW). According to a recent study, premature babies with ELBW are more likely to be bullied as children and have an increased risk for developing mental illness as adults.

The study by the McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada, revealed that the more a child is bullied, the higher is the chance of developing mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anti-social behavior as adults.

Kimberly Day, Ph.D., Lawson Postdoctoral Fellow at the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University, said, “Being bullied has a significant and lasting impact for preemies, even into their 30s.”

She added that parents, teachers and physicians should be aware of the long-term effects of peer bullying on a child’s mental health. Teachers and parents should be vigilant enough to notice if someone is bullying their children and should intervene accordingly.

Children with ELBW prone to peer victimization

For the study, published in the journal Pediatrics in February 2016, the researchers investigated 179 ELBW babies who weighed 2.2 pounds or less and born during 1977-1982 in Ontario, Canada. They were interviewed at ages 8, 22 to 26 and 29 to 36. They were then compared with normal birth weight (NBW) babies who weighed 5.5 pounds or more, were born during the same time period and interviewed at the same intervals. The researchers wanted to observe the lasting effects on adulthood of those who were born premature and bullied as children.

Children with ELBW were prone to peer victimization, the researchers found. Such children might exhibit certain characteristics, such as poor motor abilities, lower IQ levels, and elevated levels of anxiety and depression that make them more susceptible to bullying. However, they might also possess resilient characteristics, such as social skills or good academic performance, which might lessen victimization.

ELBW children bullied by peers more prone to mental disorders

The study found that up to one-third of children are bullied worldwide, with ELBW children being affected by it the most. The ELBW children who are bullied by their peers are two times more prone to develop mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression or ADHD by the time they reach their 20s.

In fact, by their 30s, the ELBW adults who are bullied during childhood are thrice as likely to develop anxiety disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobia and panic disorder. But the rate of developing mental disorders increases for adults who are bullied more often during childhood.

Ryan Van Lieshout, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at the McMaste, said, “This is the first study to fully illustrate the profound and long-lasting effects of bullying on the mental health of preterm survivors. Their risk for anxiety disorders is especially high, particularly among those who are exposed to bullying on a regular basis.”

Way forward

The researchers are of the opinion that parents should be alert enough not to let their children get bullied, especially if they were born premature with low birth weight. The school should keep a vigil on such acts and organize behavioral workshops on peer victimization to create awareness about their effects.

Bullying is an unwanted aggressive behavior and can cause detrimental effect on a child’s physical and mental health. If your child has been a victim of such act and has been mentally disturbed, or he/she has been found indulging in such unpleasant acts, please contact the California Mental Health Helpline at 855-559-3923 to get the advanced mental health treatment in California. Our experts can guide you to one of the best mental health centers in California.