Bullied teenagers may show early signs of psychosis, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Tokyo. The study found that nearly 500 bullied adolescents had lower levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region of the brain crucial for regulating emotions. Glutamate, which is involved in moderating moods, was found to be reduced in these teenagers, potentially indicating a higher risk of experiencing preclinical stages of psychosis.
The researchers used questionnaires to track bullying victimization in the adolescents and employed formal psychiatric measurement methods to assess their experiences. While the symptoms exhibited by these teenagers “come close” to psychosis, they do not meet the full criteria for a clinical diagnosis of psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Understanding these subclinical psychotic experiences is vital for identifying individuals who may be at increased risk of developing a clinical psychotic illness later in life, explained Naohiro Okada, the lead author of the study and a project associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s International Research Center for Neurointelligence. The researchers used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to measure glutamate levels in the brain, allowing them to assess changes over time and compare them to experiences of bullying.
According to Okada, anti-bullying programs in schools that focus on promoting positive social interactions and reducing aggressive behaviors are crucial for creating a safe and supportive environment for all students. Such programs not only reduce the risk of bullying but also help mitigate the negative consequences that bullying can have on mental health. Additionally, interventions such as counseling services, peer support groups, and other mental health resources can assist adolescents in coping with the detrimental effects of bullying and developing resilience.