KIDS
May 5, 2014

Bullying's Scars Seen in Adulthood

We tend to think of bullying as schoolyard behavior, but it can affect victims even as adults.

Kids can be mean, and everyone gets teased in school. Most people get over it. But bullying, a pattern of harassment in which a person is repeatedly targeted by a more powerful group in an effort to isolate and hurt them, is in a different category altogether.

The media frequently reports the enormous toll bullying can take on victims, and a recent study makes clear that its effects extend far beyond the school years: being bullied can provoke long-lasting consequences.

The effects of bullying victimization were still apparent almost 40 years later.

The negative mental, social, and psychological effects of bullying last into adulthood and for some, may never really go away. In the first study to look at the effects of childhood bullying through middle age, researchers from Kings College, London and the University of Tokyo found the effects of bullying victimization were still apparent almost 40 years later.

“The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social, and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood,” lead author Ryu Takizawa said in a statement.

Over 7,700 children who had been the victims of childhood bullying, according to their parents, were followed in the study. Twenty-eight percent had been bullied occasionally, and 15 percent had been bullied frequently. The researchers followed the children at ages 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 45 and 50.

Children who were bullied in childhood were more likely to have poorer physical and psychological health and cognitive functioning at age 50. Those who were frequently bullied as children were also at an increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts.

Men who were bullied were more likely to be unemployed and earn less. Bullying can affect social relationships and psychological well-being in adulthood as well. Those who had been bullied were less likely to be in a relationship and have a strong social support network; they were also more likely to report lower quality of life and life satisfaction.

Most telling was the fact that the more a child had been bullied, the more likely he or she was to have these sorts of difficulties as adults.

“Teachers, parents, and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children,” said Louise Arseneault, senior author of the paper. People need to rethink the idea that bullying is an inevitable part of growing-up, Arsenault added.

While anti-bullying programs are important, efforts should also focus on early intervention to prevent problems continuing into adolescence and adulthood.

Parents and teachers in particular should make themselves familiar with the warning signs suggesting a child is being bullied, since children may not bring it up on their own.

The study was published online recently in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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