Kids who were bullied tend to grow up as adults with anxiety, depression and such emotional issues. That’s what a study published online in JAMA Psychiatry suggests.
The study conducted by researchers at Duke Medicine is the most definitive one to date on the long-lasting psychological effects of bullying.
Previously it was believed that the negative consequences of bullying are temporary, limited to childhood and the effects do not carry over to adulthood.
“We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person’s long-term functioning,” said William E. Copeland, PhD, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University and lead author of the study. “This psychological damage doesn’t just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied. This is something that stays with them. If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road.”
Copeland and colleagues had a much richer data set than previously studies have undertaken. Using the Great Smoky Mountain Study, the research team could study 1,420 children aged 9, 11 and 13 from 11 counties in western North Carolina. Of the original group, more than 1,270 were followed up into adulthood. Some children were bullied but they did not bully anybody, some children got bullied and also bullied others, as some children did not get bullied but bullied others. The some children were neither victims nor perpetrators of bullying.
The adult interviews included questions about the participants’ psychological health.
As adults, they had been bullied were more likely to develop psychiatric disorders compared with those who had never been bullied. Those who were both bullies and victims had higher levels of all anxiety and depressive disorders, plus the highest levels of suicidal thoughts, depressive disorders, generalised anxiety and panic disorder. Bullies were also at increased risk for antisocial personality disorder.
“Bullying is potentially a problem for bullies as well as for victims,” said senior author E. Jane Costello, PhD, associate director of research at Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “Bullying, which we tend to think of as a normal and not terribly important part of childhood, turns out to have the potential for very serious consequences for children, adolescents and adults.”