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Understanding the links between bullying and mental health – UCL's Dr Jean-Baptiste Pingault investigates

9 August 2017

Understanding the links between bullying and mental health – UCL researcher Dr Jean-Baptiste Pingault investigates

Looking at a child’s formative years is crucial to tackling mental illness in later life. 75% of mental illness starts before the age of 18, yet it takes on average a decade for young people to get the right support. This delay in effective treatment suggests there is a fundamental gap in our understanding of how mental illness develops and should be treated. A gap that research carried out at UCL is tackling head on.

UCL researcher Dr Jean-Baptiste Pingault (UCL Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology), funded by mental health research charity MQ, is exploring the relationship between bullying and mental health with the hope that it will lead to more targeted and effective support for young people.

More than one in five young people in the UK say that they’ve been recently bullied, with the rise of cyberbullying a growing concern. We know that many young people who are bullied experience mental health problems, including self-harm, but we have little understanding of whether bullying directly causes these problems or if other factors, such as genetic influences or home life, play a bigger part. This is the question Jean-Baptiste and his team are looking to answer.

They are examining three different data sets of longitudinal studies, which include detailed information on mental health, bullying and other factors that can put people at risk of bullying. Using cutting-edge statistical techniques, Jean-Baptiste will explore the link between bullying and mental health conditions, while also considering other risk factors such as education and economic background, that could mean someone is more likely to be bullied.

Watch Dr Pingault talk about the potential of his work for those with mental health conditions

Dr Pingault has big ambitions for his work, which could have a huge impact for those at risk of mental illness in future, he explains, “As a researcher the idea is you will find something new and be able to solve the problems of the world. For my research in particular, what I hope to achieve is to provide a clearer picture of the consequences of bullying victimisation so that clinicians and people that design interventions have better insight into how to design them so that they really help vulnerable children.”

His hope is that the analysis will not only shine a light on the link between bullying and mental health so that we can better target treatments, but that it will even help clinicians to be able to identify those most at risk from bullying so that we can intervene earlier.

Dr Jean-Baptiste Pingault is a lecturer in UCL Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, he has been awarded an MQ: Transforming Mental Health fellowship for his work on bullying and mental health.