Thursday, November 15, 2012

Prenatal Stress Increases Risk of Being Bullied

A British study of more than 8,800 children and their mothers indicates that maternal mental health problems and prenatal stress caused by family adversity—like financial difficulties, criminal involvement, or substance abuse—increases the risk of the children being bullied at ages 7 or 8, wrote graduate student Suzet Tanya Lereya and Dieter Wolke, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Warwick, Coventry, U.K., online in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

“Prenatal factors had significant direct and indirect effects on victimization via partner conflict and maladaptive parenting,” they said.

How might this happen? Neurohormones, such as cortisol and noradrenaline, are released into the blood during exposure to stress in pregnancy and may change the fetus’s own stress response system, suggest the authors. “Thus, altered stress reactivity and phenotypic behavior may make children more likely targets of bullies, as they easily show a stress reaction.”

They also argue that preventive measures during pregnancy and early childhood might target families living in high adversity or with prenatal mental health problems.

“Similarly, providing extra support for children known to experience maladaptive parenting or witness aggression at home may reduce bullying involvement,” they concluded.

For more information about bullying see Psychiatric News here and Preventing Bullying and School Violence published by American Psychiatric Publishing Inc.

(Image: Prudkov/


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