jbluethmann Dec 14, 2010 7:31 AM – Show original item
Sadly, headlines bearing the words of “bullying” and “suicide” have become almost commonplace in the last six months. Few people would argue that bullying can leave emotional scars that last a lifetime, but new research is showing that bullying can also have physiological effects on brain development similar to those sustained by children who have been sexually or physically abused.
The Boston Globe took a look at research published by the American Journal of Psychiatry and conducted by Martin Teicher, a neuroscientist at McLean University in Belmont, that revealed young adults who were mistreated, ostracized or otherwise bullied by their peers as children had observable abnormalities in the part of the brain known as the corpus callosum. This thick bundle of fibers connects the left and right brain hemispheres and are vital to visual processing, memory and more. The neurons in the corpus callosums of those had had been bullied contained less myelin, a coating that speeds communication between cells. What this means for those bullied is still not yet known, but it could put them at higher risk for depression and other anxiety disorders.
Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychologist at the University of Ottawa, has also conducted research in this area revealing that boys bullied by their peers seemed to have higher than normal levels of cortisol, a hormone produced in times of stress. Girls who are bullied have lower levels than normal. This cortisol activity may contribute to a weakened immune system or damage neurons in the hippocampus leading to memory problems.
The hope of these researchers and others looking into the long-term effects of bullying is that by demonstrating the adverse effects more school administrators, parents and others in a position to put a stop to bullying step up with stricter rules and earlier intervention.
Following are resources for families and children coping with bullying:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics provides helpful hints for parents on the Connected Kids portion of its website.
- The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology provides “Facts for Families” on bullying, its effects and how to combat it
- The National Institutes of Health provides information on depression related to bullying.
- The Mayo Clinic provides guidance for parents on helping their children handle school bullies.