Assessment and Management of Bullied Children in the Emergency Department

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Abstract

Bullying is an important public health issue in the United States. Up to 30% of children report exposure to such victimization. Not only does it hurt bully victim, but it also negatively impacts the bully, other children, parents, school staff, and health care providers. Because bullying often presents with accompanying serious emotional and behavioral symptoms, there has been an increase in psychiatric referrals to emergency departments. Emergency physicians may be the first responders in the health care system for bullying episodes. Victims of bullying may present with nonspecific symptoms and be reluctant to disclose being victimized, contributing to the underdiagnosis and underreporting of bully victimization. Emergency physicians therefore need to have heightened awareness of physical and psychosocial symptoms related to bullying. They should rapidly screen for bullying, assess for injuries and acute psychiatric issues that require immediate attention, and provide appropriate referrals such as psychiatry and social services. This review defines bullying, examines its presentations and epidemiology, and provides recommendations for the assessment and evaluation of victims of bullying in the emergency department.

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