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Study: Bullying By Siblings May Double Risk Of Depression, Self-Harm

By Nicole Tay
CommonHealth intern

When I was growing up, I used to complain about the loneliness of being an only child. “I want an older brother like Mandy!” I would plead to my parents. I just wanted an older, cooler playmate; I never considered the potential downside.

Now, at 22, I’ve heard my share of horror stories; the sibling bullies who called my friends “butt face” or “stupid” or “brat;” the burnt Barbie dolls; the bag of caterpillars dumped on my poor friend's head.

Is sibling bullying just a harmless rite of passage — or can it actually entail developmental repercussions?

A new study published today by the American Academy of Pediatrics targets that very question. After surveying more than 6,900 young people in the UK, researchers found that victims of frequent sibling bullying were twice as predisposed to depression, anxiety, and self-harm in young adulthood as non-bullied controls. This British-based study comes on the heels of similar findings in an American study last year. From the paper:

Of the 786 children who reported that they had been bullied by a sibling several times a week (55.3% female), depression was reported by 12.3% at age 18 years, self-harm occurred in 14.1%, and anxiety was reported by 16.0%.

And from the abstract:

The population-attributable fractions suggested that 13.0% of depression and 19.3% of self-harm could be explained by being the victim of sibling bullying if these were causal relationships.

The earlier American study, also published in "Pediatrics," concluded that, "...Parents, pediatricians and the public should treat sibling aggression as potentially harmful, and not dismiss it as normal, minor, or even beneficial, and this message should be included in parenting education."

The authors of this new study say: “Our results suggest that interventions designed to target sibling bullying should be devised and evaluated.”

It's looking more and more like getting pranked and teased by an older sibling isn’t quite as innocuous as it may seem.

Further reading:
Study: Bullying Toll May Linger For Years, Leading To 'Substantially' Worse Health
Bullying At Home Aggressive Siblings Hurt Mental Health, Study Finds

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