Bullying may leave teens at greater risk of psychosis, research has found.
The study from researchers at the University of Tokyo, which is published in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry, reports that bullying was linked to a chemical change in the brain, that increased the risk of psychosis-like symptoms. Psychosis is a disconnect from reality and comes in the form of several disorders, such as schizophrenia. The researchers found that the psychotic episodes experienced by these teens did not meet the criteria needed in order to diagnose them with a psychotic disorder; however, there was a clear increased risk of hallucinations, radical change in behavior or thinking, and paranoia.
"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," Naohiro Okada, lead author of the study and project associate professor at the University of Tokyo's International Research Center for Neurointelligence said in a summary of the research findings.
To reach these findings, the researchers measured the glutamate levels in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) region of Japanese teenagers' brains. The ACC is a neurotransmitter in the brain that works to regulate the body's emotions and cognitive control. They compared the changes in glutamate levels when the teenager had experienced bullying, and when they had not experienced bullying.
They also considered whether the teenager had sought help for the bullying.
Along with an increased risk of psychotic episodes, the scientists found that being bullied had a significant impact on the teens' well-being, the study reported.
Scientists already knew that bullying at school can be highly determinantal to an adolescent's wellbeing. But the link between bullying, the ACC, glutamate levels and teenagers, has never been studied before.
These findings suggest that the neurotransmitter could be a future target for treatments in psychotic disorders.
However, the researchers stress that non-medical treatment options, such as talking therapy, remain important for psychotic disorders. It is also vital to provide support to those who are experiencing bullying, the study reports.
"First and foremost, 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 the summary. "These programs can help create a safe and supportive environment for all students, reducing the likelihood of bullying and its negative consequences."