Teen bullying can lead to depression later in life, according to a new study. Researchers found that nearly 30 percent of cases of adult depression can be linked to bullying during teen years.

Lucy Bowes from the University of Oxford, along with a team of researchers, examined 3,898 students, asking 13-year-old participants questions about bullying. These surveys were followed up with inquires into depression five years later.  

Teenagers who are bullied are twice as likely as their non-bullied peers to develop depression as adults, the new study found. A total of 7.1 percent of those who experienced occasional bullying--between one and three times over a six-month period--were found to be depressed at age 18. This number more than doubled to 14.8 percent among subjects who reported frequent bullying--more than once a week--when they were 13. Just 5.5 percent of those who said they were never bullied at the start of their teen years were depressed when they reached the age of maturity.

Depression lasting longer than two years was reported by 4.1 percent of the unbullied group and 10.1 percent of those who experienced the behavior on a regular basis.

Because this study relies on observational evidence instead of controlled experiments, it is impossible to say whether or not bullying directly leads to depression.

"We have known for some time that bullying has long-term consequences for targets of this destructive behavior. The adolescent period can be challenging for many young people and for those who also experience bullying it can be extremely difficult, and it is not uncommon for mental health issues to develop," Claude Knights, head of the anti-bullying organization Kidscape, said.

The most common form of bullying was name-calling, followed by taking personal items. Most children never tell parents or teachers about these incidents.

Researchers believe strong policies in schools against bullying could help to reduce the behavior and the accompanying depression.

"Such substantial work should lead to further reflection about the need for early intervention. Effective antibullying programs can be seen as a form of public health promotion," Maria Ttofi, lecturer in psychological criminology, wrote in an editorial accompanying the research paper.

Between 25 and 33 percent of all students in the United States report they have been bullied in school. A smaller number of students have also been victims of online cyberbullying. The most common victims are those who are different from their peers in one way or another, according to Stopbullying.gov.

Analysis of the correlation between bullying in early teen years and depression later in life was profiled in the journal The BMJ.

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