Aoife Brinkley, a senior clinical psychologist at the child obesity service at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital, said seven out of ten children at the clinic reported bullying, with one tenth self-harming as a result, and suffering with depression and anxiety disorders.
With a quarter of Irish children classed as overweight or obese, it is thought more and more will be psychologically affected by bullying as a new international report pinpointed weight as the most common form of playground teasing.
Dr Brinkley said children with obesity can be so affected by bullying they can no longer face going into the classroom. “We see kids refusing to go to school. We would have a little group that have struggled or missed a huge amount of school because of the bullying they have experienced.”
The leading psychologist said she has seen bullying resulting in children becoming so socially anxious they can’t go outside their house.
“We would have a lot of children who have attempted to hurt themselves and harm themselves. We would have children with depression, symptoms of anxiety.
“There is a lot of social anxiety where children or teenagers are struggling to go outside the house because they feel so self-conscious.
“It can become a vicious cycle where a young person teased or bullied doesn’t want to leave the house and is gaining weight because they are not leaving the house.”
She said bullying can begin to have much more serious consequences towards the end of primary school.
“Maybe they have been bullied on and off from third class and fourth class but maybe things continuing into fifth class and sixth class, so it means that transition to secondary school is particularly difficult for those kids.”
She said a survey carried out among children with obesity attending the W82GO Healthy Lifestyles Programme in Temple Street, which sees an average of 150 children a year, showed 57% of children experienced moderate bullying with 11% subjected to severe bullying.
“With girls it tends to be name-calling, left out of games. As they get older it tends to be more of a serious nature. Targeted exclusion over a period of time, repeated comments and we have had some children where there has been quite serious cyber bullying on social media.”
She said there are also a lot of misconceptions around childhood obesity in Ireland. “A lot of the stigma is that people think that it’s simple — that they need to eat less or be more active. That is true to some degree but sometimes there are barriers to stop them doing that which are absolutely insurmountable whether it’s parents’ substance use or mental health within the family.
“I’d like to break down the myth that it is a simple thing or it is the parents’ fault. It is very complex and a really difficult thing to change.”
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