Sibling Bullying May Lead to Psychotic Disorders in Adulthood


The negative effects of bullying are extensive, and a study from the University of Warwick in the UK has linked siblings who are involved in bullying to psychotic disorders. In fact, the study found that siblings involved in bullying are three times more likely to develop a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia, in adulthood.

The study is the first of its kind to look at how sibling bullying can lead to developing psychotic disorders. Dieter Wolke, the study’s senior author and professor at the University, said bullying from siblings has been ignored as a source of trauma by society.

Credit: Aislinn Ritchie CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Bullying by siblings has been until recently widely ignored as a trauma that may lead to serious mental health problems such as psychotic disorder,” Wolke said in a press release. “Children spend substantial time with their siblings in the confinement of their family home and if bullied and excluded, this can lead to social defeat and self-blame and serious mental health disorder – as shown here for the first time.”

The study had 6,988 participants from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a cohort based in the UK. Sibling bullying was reported at 12 years old by approximately 3,600 children, and psychotic disorder was assessed by a semi-structured interview at 18 years old, the researchers reported.

Even after adjusting the study, involvement in sibling bullying was associated with psychotic disorder. The study said that those who reported bullying incidents multiple times a week were two to three times more likely to meet the criteria for psychotic disorder.

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At age twelve, 664 adolescents reported to be victims of bullying; 486 reported to being pure bullies to their siblings; and 771 reported being bullies and bullying themselves. The study found that the children most at risk for developing a psychotic disorder were those involved in sibling bullying, either a perpetrator or victim, several times a week.

Those who reported being bullied both at home and at school were at a higher risk, and were found to be four times more likely to develop psychotic disorders compared to those who reported they weren’t involved in bullying. Slava Dantchev, study author from the University, said bullying at home creates even more problems for children.

“If the bullying occurs at home and at school the risk for psychotic disorder is even higher. These adolescents have no safe place,” Dantchev said. “Although we controlled for many pre-existing mental health and social factors, it cannot be excluded that the social relationship problems may be early signs of developing serious mental health problems rather than their cause.”