Is There a Connection Between Bullies and Mental Illness?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Bullies are more than twice as likely to have depression, anxiety or attention deficit disorder according to a new study completed at Brown University. The study also shows that those with mental health issues during childhood are three times more likely to become bullies.

  defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.” [1] Bullying, with the onset of cyberbullying, has become an extensive and growing problem in the United States. Over half of all school age children have or will become the victim of bullying and 10 percent of victims state they were or are being bullied on a regular basis, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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    Children with ADHD are more apt to be victims of bullies but according to this most recent study, they are also more apt to become bullies as well.  In an article on, chief psychologist at Maimonedes Medical Center, Alan Hilfer says that ADHD can “often lead to impulsive and at times aggressive behavior.” He continues that children with ADHD “can be depressed, fearful and they often take out some of their anger and frustration on others down the pecking order.” [2] He believes that bullies are also victims and rather than solely being punished, they should be given help and the chance to change their behavior.


    Parents are often at a loss when their child is a bully. First, it is hard to accept that your child is acting in this way toward another child. But beyond that, parents aren’t sure what to do. This study suggests that one of the first places to start is to have your child evaluated to find out if mental illness may play a part. Finding the source of the anger and working to improve that area – whether from a mental illness or from having been a victim of abuse – is essential to helping a bully change his or her behaviors.


    The Pacer Center, an organization providing assistance, education and other resources to families of children with disabilities gives the following suggestions for parents when they find out their child is being bullied:

    • Talk with your child – find out why he is bullying others. Talk about how he feels about himself and if he is being bullied by someone else.
    • Determine if the actions are actually bullying behavior or if they are a result of a disability.
    • Teach your child about empathy, respect and compassion – sometimes children who bully aren’t aware of how other children feel.
    • Let your child know that bullying is not acceptable behavior.
    • Explain what the consequences will be if your child is bullying another child.
    • Solve conflicts you may have with non-violent behaviors and a cooperative attitude to model conflict resolution strategies.
    • Role play different situations to help your child understand different ways of resolving conflicts.
    • Give positive reinforcement when your child handles a situation in a positive and non-violent way.
    • Be realistic about your goals for your child. Remember behaviors aren’t going to change overnight, give your child time to change and praise every small accomplishment.

    Dealing with your child as a bully is difficult. As a parent, you don’t need to go through this process alone. Talk with your pediatrician or family doctor, school administrators or a psychologist. Ask about bully prevention programs and, if ADHD, depression or anxiety is present, talk with your doctor about treatment options.


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    “Bullies Nearly Twice as Likely to Have Mental Health Disorder,” 2012, Oct 22, Lara Salahi,


    “Bullying Statistics 2010,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Bullying Statistics – Stop Bullying Harrassment and Violence


    “What if Your Child Is the Bully?” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Pacer Center Action Information Sheets


    [1] “What is Bullying?” Date Unknown, Staff Writer,

Published On: October 23, 2012