Teens and depression

Teens and depression
By Sandy Hemphill, Contributing Writer, BabyMed

A new study from the University of Vermont indicates one in five American students is the target of bullying on school property. This bad behavior comes at a time when schools across the country are reducing or eliminating recess, sports programs, and other activities that focus on physical fitness. The Vermont study strengthens evidence that good physical health promotes good mental health, too, and may help take the sting out of bullying for teenagers.

Associate professor Jeremy Sibold, of the university’s rehabilitation and movement science department said he “was surprised that it was that significant and that positive effects of exercise extended to kids actually trying to harm themselves.” His research found a direct link between regular physical activity and reduction in thoughts and acts of self-harm in victims of schoolyard bullying.

Sibold and his research team used data from the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study involved 13,583 high school students as a representative sample of high school students throughout the US.

Bullied students are more likely to perform poorly academically and to experience mental / emotional distress that includes anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and sadness. They are more likely to delve into substance abuse also.

Sibold’s study found:

  • 30% reported feelings of sadness lasting two weeks or longer during the year prior to the CDC survey.
  • Bullied students were twice as likely to report sadness than their peers not victimized by bullying.
  • 22% reported thoughts of suicide.
  • 8.2% said they tried to commit suicide in the previous year.
  • Bullied students were three times more likely to fantasize about or attempt suicide.
  • 23% fewer thoughts or acts of self-harm, including suicide, in bullied students who were physically active four or more days a week.

According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, the No Child Left Behind act, signed in 2001, has led to a dramatic reduction in recess, physical education, and athletic programs in US schools while shifting emphasis to passing exams in mathematics and reading. Between 2001 and 2006, 44% of the nation’s schools made significant cuts to physical education, the arts, and recess. The number of schools offering physical education activities on a three- to five-day-a-week basis has dropped dramatically since the No Child Left Behind law was enacted.

Sibold said, “It’s scary and frustrating that exercise isn’t more ubiquitous and that we don’t encourage it more in schools. Instead, some kids are put on medication and told ‘good luck.’ If exercise reduces sadness, suicide ideation, and suicide attempts, then why in the world are we cutting physical education programs and making it harder for students to make athletic teams at such a critical age?”


  1. Sibold, Jeremy, Erika Edwards, Diana Murray-Close, and James J. Hudziak. "Physical Activity, Sadness, and Suicidality in Bullied US Adolescents." Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 54.10 (2015): 808-15. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.
  2. Reidel, Jon. "New Study: Exercise Reduces Suicide Attempts by Bullied Teens." The University of Vermont / University Communications. The University of Vermont, 21 Sept. 2015. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.
  3. "Healthy Schools: Physical Activity Facts." CDC / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services, 17 June 2015. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.