Bullies and Their Victims Can Suffer for a Lifetime
A new study, however, finds that there is ample support for not accepting bullying as a normal part of childhood. Instead of a harmless rite of passage, bullying is instead a problem that can have consequences that last into adulthood.
The study, conducted by researchers at Duke University Medical Center, finds that kids who are bullied often grow up to be adults who suffer from depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. The findings are based on data that was gathered over a 20-year period among a large sample of participants who were recruited during their adolescent years.
The authors say that the long-term design of the study allows for a more comprehensive look at the effects of bullying. The findings appear in a recent online issue of JAMA Psychiatry.
Lead author William E. Copeland, Ph.D., says that the researchers were surprised at the strength of the impact bullying can have on a person’s mental health in adulthood. The damage is not limited to childhood. If bullying can be prevented, says Copeland, there can be an avoidance of major problems later in adulthood.
The findings are the result of analysis based around the Great Smoky Mountain Study, in which 1,420 children aged 9, 11, and 13 were recruited from 11 counties in North Carolina. Beginning in 1993, the children were interviewed with their parents or caregivers until they reached the age of 16, and then periodically as they transitioned to adulthood.
Until the age of 16, the interview included questions for both the child and caregiver about bullying. The questions assessed whether the child had bullied or been bullied in the three months before the interview took place.
Approximately 26 percent of the participants, or 421 children, reported that they had been bullied at least one time, while 887 had not been bullied. There was no significant difference noted between genders.
Approximately 9.5 percent, or 200 children, said that they had bullied others and while 112 had only bullied, 86 had both bullied and been the victims of bullying.
Of the full group of participants, approximately 1,270 were assessed into adulthood. The interviews in adulthood included questions that focused on aspects of mental health.
The participants who had a history of being bullied, in addition to those who had not only been bullied but also bullied others, had a higher risk of mental health issues when compared to those who did not have a history of being bullied.
The participants who were victims only had a higher risk of anxiety disorders, panic disorder, depression and agoraphobia. Those who were victims and bullies had a greater risk of depression and all types of anxiety disorders, as well as suicidal thoughts.