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Bullying or depression - which comes first? Add to ...

When a kid is repeatedly hit, insulted or picked on by another student, it’s reasonable to assume the victim may develop low self-esteem and other psychological problems.

But although depressed kids are more likely to be bullied, their poor mental health is not necessarily due to abuse from their peers, CBC reports.

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A new study that followed 486 children through Grade 4 to Grade 6 found little indication that being bullied increased a child’s risk for depression in later grades.

For kids who are already depressed, however, the earlier grades can be dark times.

Children who cry easily or go on about their problems may be bully magnets, according to the research, conducted by Karen Kochel and colleagues at Arizona State University’s school of social and family dynamics.

“Youth who are depressed really have the potential to appear vulnerable, and are easy marks for victimization,” she told CNN.

It’s a matter of kick ’em while they’re down.

The research, published in the journal Child Development and funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, confirms that depressive behaviour has a negative impact on peer acceptance.

Fourth graders with depressive symptoms were more likely than their classmates to be bullied in Grade 5, and kids who were victimized in Grade 5 were more likely to be shunned by peers in Grade 6.

The study suggests that depression came before the kids’ social difficulties, but doesn’t rule out the possibility that rejection from peers can make a depressed child even more depressed.

Researchers looked at depressive symptoms based on reports from parents and teachers, which didn’t include whether students themselves had feelings of worthlessness.

Nevertheless, in an interview with CNN, Jennifer Lansford, a developmental psychologist at Duke University's Center for Child and Family Policy in Durham, N.C., described the study as “rigorous and well conducted.”

She said the findings emphasize the need for parents and teachers to identify psychological problems early and help kids before the cycle of depression and victimization starts.

“Even from a pretty early age, [expressions]of sadness or … other negative emotions can lead to problems with peers,” she said. “If parents and teachers are able to work with kids to express their emotions in different ways, then they may not elicit the same maltreatment from peers.”

Would you be able to tell if your child was depressed? How can we teach kids to reach out to peers who are struggling instead of tormenting them?

Follow on Twitter: @AdrianaBarton

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