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Bullied kids suffer chemical changes in their brains that cause lifelong harm

Recent research spearheaded by the University of Tokyo has unveiled a significant connection between bullied kids and the early stages of psychotic episodes.

This disturbing study reveals that kids who are bullied by their peers have an increased risk of experiencing these early psychotic symptoms, while also exhibit lower levels of a crucial neurotransmitter in the brain region responsible for emotion regulation.

Neurotransmitters, bullying, and kids’ brains

The neurotransmitter in question plays a pivotal role in transmitting nerve impulses for communication by nerve cells.

This discovery suggests that it could be a potential target for pharmaceutical treatments designed to mitigate the risk of developing psychotic disorders.

Psychosis, characterized by a disconnection from reality, incoherent speech and behavior, and often accompanied by hallucinations and delusions, is a hallmark of severe psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia.

Glutamate levels and mental health

Delving into the neurological and psychiatric aspects of such disorders, researchers have noted that individuals facing their first psychotic episode or those with treatable schizophrenia show diminished levels of glutamate.

This neurotransmitter, found in abundance in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), is integral to a host of functions including learning, memory, and mood regulation. The ACC itself is crucial for managing emotions, making decisions, and cognitive control.

Alterations in glutamate levels have been linked to various psychiatric disorders, indicating that monitoring these levels can offer insights into the underlying mechanisms of these conditions and their potential treatments.

However, the connection between altered glutamate levels in individuals at high risk of psychosis and the impact of bullying during adolescence has been less clear until now.

Bullied kids and psychotic behavior

To explore this, researchers employed magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to measure glutamate levels in the ACC region of Japanese adolescents.

By assessing changes in these levels over time and correlating them with experiences of bullying or its absence, the study aimed to shed light on the relationship between brain chemistry and the psychological impact of bullying.

The methodology involved tracking bullying victimization through questionnaires and using psychiatric measurements to evaluate these experiences, focusing on the frequency, nature, and overall mental health impact of physical or verbal aggression.

The findings were revealing: bullying was linked to higher levels of subclinical psychotic experiences in early adolescence.

These symptoms, though not meeting the full criteria for a clinical diagnosis, include hallucinations, paranoia, or significant changes in thinking or behavior, impacting well-being and functionality.

Strategies to combat effects of bullying

Naohiro Okada, the lead author of the study and a project associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s International Research Center for Neurointelligence, emphasized the importance of studying these subclinical experiences.

“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 stated.

The study found a notable association between higher levels of subclinical psychotic experiences and lower levels of anterior cingulate glutamate in early adolescence.

Protecting bullied kids: A call to action

This link underscores the importance of addressing bullying in schools through anti-bullying programs that promote positive social interactions and reduce aggression, as Okada suggested.

Such initiatives can foster a safe, supportive environment, potentially reducing the incidence of bullying and its adverse effects.

Moreover, Okada highlighted the need for supporting bullied adolescents through counseling, peer support, and other mental health resources to help them cope and build resilience.

While pharmaceutical interventions targeting the identified neurotransmitter imbalance are a possibility, Okada also pointed to the potential of nonpharmacological approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness-based interventions.

In summary, this research illuminates the biochemical underpinnings of bullying’s impact on mental health suggests options for both pharmacological and nonpharmacological interventions to support at-risk adolescents.

By addressing the root causes and effects of bullying, we can hope to mitigate the risk of psychosis and improve the well-being of young individuals facing these challenges.

The full study was published in the journal Molecular Psychology.


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