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Understanding the relationship between bullying and mental health

Research awardFellows Award programme

Funding period2017 - 2020

InstitutionUniversity College London

LocationUnited Kingdom

Dr Jean-Baptiste Pingault is investigating whether improving our understanding of the relationship between mental health and bullying can lead to more targeted and effective support for young people.

The project

More than one in five UK young people say they’ve recently been bullied, with cyberbullying in particular on the rise. But what long-term effect does this have on mental health?

We know that many young people who are bullied experience serious mental health problems, including self-harm. But we have little knowledge of whether bullying directly causes these problems, or whether other factors – like genetic influences or home life – are more likely to explain the relationship.

So, Dr Jean-Baptiste Pingault of University College London is leading research to characterise the direct effect that being bullied has on mental illness, with the aim of improving mental health support for people who are bullied.

The process

Jean-Baptiste will examine information from three UK data sets. These major studies focus on children and parents, and include comprehensive information on mental health, bullying and the factors that can put people at risk of being bullied.

Using innovative statistical techniques, Jean-Baptiste will explore the consequence of being bullied on the risk of developing various mental illnesses from childhood to early adulthood. And he will search for other risk factors – studying everything from physical health to education to economic background.

Through this analysis, he will build an evidence base that could transform our understanding of the links between bullying and mental health – as well as expanding what we know about the factors that put young people at greater risk from bullying.

The potential

Our lack of knowledge of what puts people at risk of bullying is holding back the support we can offer. By breaking through that lack of insight, Jean-Baptiste’s research could point us towards more targeted and more effective support.

For example, it could help to identify the people at greatest risk from bullying – and to improve the support available to prevent those people from being bullied in the first place. 

In this way, the research ultimately has the potential to make life less painful for huge numbers of young people.

Find out more about the preliminary findings of Jean-Baptiste's work. 

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