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Could Bullying Raise a Teen's Odds for Psychosis?
  • Posted February 7, 2024

Could Bullying Raise a Teen's Odds for Psychosis?

The Pearl Jam song "Jeremy"tells the story of a boy driven mad by bullies who commits suicide in front of his classroom.

The song might reflect a real and ongoing threat to teens' mental health, new research suggests.

Teens being bullied face a greater risk of early-stage psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or paranoia, according to findings published recently in the journal Nature.

Bullied teenagers also have lower levels of a key neurotransmitter found in a part of the brain involved in regulating emotions, researchers said.

The findings highlight the value of efforts to reduce bullying at schools, said lead researcher Naohiro Okada, a project associate professor with the University of Tokyo's International Research Center for Neurointelligence.

"Anti-bullying programs in schools that focus on promoting positive social interactions and reducing aggressive behaviors are essential for their own sake and to reduce the risk of psychosis and its subclinical precursors,"Okada said in a university news release.

"These programs can help create a safe and supportive environment for all students, reducing the likelihood of bullying and its negative consequences,"Okada added.

Researchers tracked bullying via questionnaires completed by Japanese teenagers, as well as the effect bullying had on their mental health.

They found bullying associated with subclinical psychotic experiences in early adolescence -- symptoms that come close to psychosis but do not meet the full criteria for a clinical diagnosis.

These symptoms can include hallucinations, paranoia and radical alterations in thinking and behavior, researchers said.

Full-fledged psychosis is characterized by a loss of contact with reality, accompanied by incoherent speech and behavior.

But these early symptoms can also significantly impact a teen's well-being and function, even if they don't progress to full-fledged psychosis, the researchers said.

Using brain scans, they found that subclinical psychotic episodes were linked to lower levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain region known as the anterior cingulate cortex.

That region is known to play a crucial role in regulating emotions, making decisions and controlling the ability to think and reason, researchers said.

Further, glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain and is involved in a wide range of functions, including learning, memory and mood regulation.

"Studying these subclinical psychotic experiences is important for us to understand the early stages of psychotic disorders and for identifying individuals who may be at increased risk for developing a clinical psychotic illness later on,"Okada said.

More information

The National Institutes of Health have more about bullying and health.

SOURCE: University of Tokyo, news release, Feb. 5, 2024

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