Can Bullying Cause OCD?

Asked by Anonymous

Mental health professionals rarely determine that one factor causes a mental health disorder; rather, experiences can put a person at a higher risk of experiencing a mental health disorder. Therefore, rather than ask whether bullying causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it makes more sense to think about whether bullying increases or contributes to one’s chances of developing the symptoms consistent with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

There is evidence that a person who experiences bullying may be at a higher risk of developing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This makes a lot of sense if you think about what bullying is. When a person is bullied, they are placed in a situation where they have little control over it. He may not feel safe in places where he should feel safe, such as at school, and efforts to seek help to stop the bullying may be ignored, only further contributing to the sense that he has limited control over his circumstances.

There is a link between trauma (and bullying can absolutely be traumatic, even if the individual does not experience significant physical harm) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, likely in part because, with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the individual obsesses about controlling their environment and/or body. Unfortunately, in trying to control so much, they often lose a sense of control over his ability to make decisions.  

Bullying and trauma are also linked to several other mental health disorders, including substance use disorders. By abusing substances to control feelings, the person may temporarily feel more control over his life (although this substance often leads to much less control). A person who experiences bullying may also be more likely to obsess over control of food intake (which can result in eating disorders) or inflict pain on oneself (self-mutilation).

An article by Fugen Neziroglu, Tania Borda, Sony Khemlani-Patel, and Brittany Bonasera entitled The Roles of Bullying and Victimization in OCD and BDD: An International Sample can provide additional reading for someone interested in the link between bullying and OCD (as well as Body Dysmorphic Disorder).

In conclusion, recognizing that bullying can be correlated with higher rates of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and other disorders can be beneficial if we help the survivor of bullying receive the necessary treatment and take practical measures to prevent bullying. There is absolutely no debate that the experience of bullying as a child can increase a person’s risk of various mental health disorders.