A joint Israeli-American study recently published in Prevention Science suggests that bullies suffer as much as their victims. The research, which was based on the the relationship of violence and depression in 1,081 fifth graders, found that when looking at both bullies and those bullied, the two groups appear to similarly suffer under a cycle of depression and violence.

“We are all inclined to divide the world into good and bad, strong and weak, vulnerable and resilient,” said Golan Shahar from the Department of Psychology at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. “Our findings, however, question this tendency by noting that the most disturbed adolescents are both perpetrators and victims.”

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Using publicly available data, Shahar, along with American researcher Christopher Henrich from the Department of Psychology of Georgia State University, analyzed the patterns among youth over the course of a year.

Specifically among children that were both bullies and bullied, the researchers found a steep increase in violence and depression during the year.

The study also found that children that reported violence and depression during fifth grade had the highest levels of violence related depression during the sixth grade, feeding into a vicious cycle where violence and depression spells trouble for the youth.

In examining this scenario, Shahar explained that while it was easy to blame the bullies alone for the violent atmosphere, the situation for these young people was actually far more complex.

“The most likely culprit,” Shahar said, “is a violent social environment which propels youth to be both violent and afflicted.”

Living in this tough social environment, he added, many children respond by growing depressed, which only increases their chances of being either a bully or bullied.

“Unfortunately, such a depression might render these teens particularly vulnerable to the effects of violence, creating a vicious cycle,” Shahar concluded, stressing that this cycle impacts both victim and perpetrator alike.

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