Children who are bullied often carry the scars of their experience into
adulthood and suffer from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, a new study
Even bullies themselves are at risk for psychological problems when they grow
up, the researchers added. And children who have been both perpetrator and
victim suffer the worst as adults.
"There has been a lot of research into how bullying affects children
short-term. We followed kids into their early 20s to see if there was any kind
of lasting effects of having been bullied," said study author William Copeland,
an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural
sciences at Duke University in Durham, NC.
"We found kids that had been just bullied in childhood seemed to be at an
elevated risk for a number of different anxiety disorders when they were
adults," he said. "Kids that had been bullied and also bullied other kids seemed
to be in the worst lot. They had thoughts of depression and hurting themselves
when they were adults. They have the worst long-term outcomes."
Copeland believes the solution is clear.
"If we could set up a culture in schools where this isn't allowed to happen,
then, I think, there are a lot of these problems we can avoid," he said.
How the study was done
To see the long-term effects of bullying, Copeland's team collected data on
more than 1 400 children who took part in the Great Smoky Mountain Study.
At the start of that study, these North Carolina kids were 9, 11 and 13 years
old. The children and their parents were interviewed every year until the
children were 16 and then periodically after that.
Each time the children were interviewed, they were asked whether they had
been bullied or teased or whether they had bullied other children.
In all, 26% of the children said they had been bullied and 9.5% said they had
bullied others or were both bullies and victims, the researchers found.
Years later, when those in the study were young adults, the researchers
interviewed more than 1 200 of them to ask about their psychological health.
They found that both those who had been bullied as kids and those who had
been both bullies and bullied had a higher risk for psychological problems than
those who weren't bullied.
Those problems included depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, generalised
anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia, which is anxiety about feeling trapped
in a place.
Those who were both bullies and victims of bullying had, in addition to being
at risk for anxiety and depression, the highest levels of suicidal thoughts.
Bullies were also at risk for antisocial personality disorder, which the US
National Library of Medicine defines as an ongoing pattern of "manipulating,
exploiting or violating the rights of others."
A serious matter
To be sure their findings were confined to bullying, the researchers
accounted for other factors such as poverty, abuse and an unstable or
dysfunctional home life, which might have contributed to psychological
One expert said that in many cases bullies and their victims have preexisting
mental health problems that continue into adulthood.
"That shouldn't shock us, because most mental health problems have their
beginning in adolescence or childhood," said Dr Victor Fornari, director of the
division of child/adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New
Hyde Park, NY.
"That's all the more reason why early intervention is important, to try to
change the course of the difficulties," he said.
Ignoring the problem is not the way to go, Fornari said, and parents need to
take these problems seriously.
"Parents who become aware that their child is either a bully or a victim of
bullying should seek mental health care, because many of these young people will
have disorders that would benefit from treatment," he said.
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