The Riggs Blog

Bullying and Social Exclusion: Links to Severe Psychopathology

As we watched the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut unfold in December, our hearts were heavy for the innocent lives taken from this world too soon. An all too familiar story unfolded in the media around tragedy, violent acts, unspeakable trauma and the profile of a loner with questionable mental health. The stories that emerged about the shooter detailed that of a socially awkward child who appeared isolated and disturbed. The frequency of traumatic events such as the Newtown shooting has left our country questioning healthcare reform for treatment provided to those affected with mental disorders, affecting tens of millions each year – with only a fraction receiving treatment according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  

The Uses of Psychoanalysis in Working with Children’s Emotional Lives has recently been published with a chapter written by Dr. Marilyn Charles – a psychologist and researcher at Austen Riggs. The chapter outlines the affects of bullying and social exclusion and the links to severe pathology.  Dr. Charles’ experience in working with patients with psychosis brings to light ways in which psychological stressors in young adulthood can lead to serious psychiatric disturbances later in life. Dr. Charles stresses the importance of the availability of empathic others, such as educators, providing a key role in recognizing vulnerable and anxious characteristics in adolescence. With respect to bullying she notes

In the stories of many individuals who struggle with psychosis, there is a history of severe bullying and/or social exclusion in childhood. This anecdotal evidence does not tell us much about cause and effect. We cannot say, in retrospect, to what extent the child became alienated or excluded because of bullying or to what extent the exclusion was in relation to psychotic symptoms or liabilities already in evidence. We do know, however, that psychotic symptoms mark strain that is not being sufficiently attended to. Such strain is often apparent in the classroom, where academic and social pressures may exacerbate other vulnerability factors. 

Read more from Dr. Charles’ chapter on bullying

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