Researchers at the University of Oxford have uncovered evidence suggesting that being regularly bullied by a sibling as a child increases a person’s risk of developing depression.
In a revolutionary study, 7,000 children aged 12 were asked if they had experienced a sibling hitting, ignoring, lying or saying hurtful things to them.
Six years later when the children turned 18, they were followed up and asked questions about their mental health.
Of the 786 children who said they had experienced bullying by a sibling at the age of 12, 12.3% reported having depression, 16% had anxiety and 14% had self-harmed.
Although many of those who said they had not been bullied did show signs of depression, self-harm and anxiety, the percentages were significantly lower. At the age of 18, only 6.4% had depression, 9.3% had experienced anxiety and 7.6% had self-harmed.
Researchers found that girls were slightly more likely to be bullied by their siblings than boys – particularly in larger families (three children or more) – while older brothers were revealed to be the most responsible.
Speaking about these findings, lead author Dr Lucy Bowes, from the department of social policy and intervention at the University of Oxford, expressed concern that parents are failing to address sibling rivalry before it escalates.
“We need to change the conversation we have about this. If it occurred in a school setting there would be repercussions,” she said.
“It may be causing long-term harm. We need to do more research, but we also need parents to listen to their children.”
Emma Jane Cross, from the charity, BeatBullying, said that parents should speak to their children as early as possible if they notice any signs of sibling bullying.
She added: “It’s important to tackle the underlying issues behind more frequent bullying behaviour rather than dismissing it as normal sibling rivalry.”