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Victims of childhood bullying have problems as adults

February 21, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Bullying is more than just child's play. It can have long-term consequences, as anyone who has ever been the victim of verbal taunts and physical assaults by classmates can attest.

According to a study released this week in JAMA Psychiatry, people who were bullied as children are a lot more likely to have serious mental health issues when they grow up.

For the study, researchers surveyed kids between the ages of 9 and 16 about their experiences with bullying and then followed up with mental health evaluations at various points until some of them were 26.

The kids who had been "pure victims" of childhood bullying were at a far higher risk of developing an anxiety order.

Kids who had been bullied and had also bullied other kids had an even greater risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders. Six percent of people who were never bullied developed an anxiety disorder in adulthood compared with 24 percent of people who had been bullied as children and 32 percent of people who were both bullied by other kids and had done some bullying of others.

Former victims of bullies are also at greater risk of committing suicide when they are adults.

Former childhood bullies had a four times greater risk of developing antisocial personality disorder – meaning they lack empathy and mistreat others – when they grew up.

The researchers say that some of the adult psychiatric problems directly stemmed from the childhood bullying and were not caused by problems at home or by a genetic predisposition.

None of this is all that surprising. I've seen other studies that say that some victims of bullying have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Childhood bullying can be every bit as physically and emotionally damaging as domestic violence in the household. Maybe it is more damaging in some cases since the victim is a child without the ability to remove himself from the situation or the life experience to counteract some of the messages he receives from other kids about his perceived worthlessness. There's a movie called "Bully" that documents the experiences of bullied school children that I think every kid ought to see. It is now out on DVD and on sale in department stores.

However, this study is yet another reminder to take kids seriously when they complain about bullies at school or on social media and for parents, teachers and school administrators to do everything in their power to put a stop to school bullying, for the sake of both the victim and the bully himself.


Article Comments



Mar-01-13 8:38 AM

I was bullied and teased as a child and I took the high road. I ignored the kids and made sure I was above reproach. I made sure I was kind and fair and eventually the bullies turned around.


Mar-01-13 8:37 AM

I don't agree, WA. Violence is never the answer and it causes the kid being bullied to stoop to the bully's level. You need to let your child know that the bully doesn't even matter. Not the kid's friend, not the kid's judge and jury and the more you ignore a bully, the less fun it is for them. If the bully is violent, the bully needs to be reported and teachers have to take more of an interest. If the bully really gets violent, it's time to sue the parents. Getting hit in the pocketbook is a great incentive.


Feb-26-13 10:50 AM

"The meek shall inherit the earth is actually going to happen." Tell that to the gun activists!


Feb-25-13 11:46 AM

The meek shall inherit the earth is actually going to happen. Language itself was invented by meek humans so they could be better able to defend themselves and feed themselves. The meek always work together to fight the individuals that are aggressive, this is on going in human nature and has been since the beginning of human time.


Feb-25-13 11:25 AM

I agree, Diane, with a foundation being properly laid. But families are individual, and until ALL families are ALL teaching the same respect for others, the foundations will be different.

The school setting is where the foundational principles get tried. Teachers have a very hard job and I think much of the bullying behavior goes on under the radar. Not all criminals are stupid.

Feb-24-13 2:56 PM

The best time to stop bullying behavior is before it ever happens--primary prevention. That is before they ever get to the schools--the home is where this needs to happen. Parents-how we role model and teach our kids is how they learn and act. Kids are sponges. Make sure they are soaking up the right stuff, before they enter school, and on-going throughout their lives. If we all do this, adults too, me included, what a great foundation for positive, respectful communities.


Feb-24-13 12:14 PM

Because that's where kids are during the day.


Feb-24-13 11:42 AM

Why does the majority of bullying happen at school? A kid is forced into an atmosphere such as a school locker room that has no supervision.....not what it is supposed to have. The teachers are the problem. They are not doing their jobs. If they did this stuff would not happen in our schools.


Feb-23-13 12:25 PM

I would suggest that if and when students are less or different than other students that information should be shared only with the parent/s. No making little competitions out of everything from pre-school on up.


Feb-23-13 12:06 PM

I would be willing to bet that the schools and classes that have bullying also have teachers with little reward systems that label some kids as less or different. Then they get teased I suppose.


Feb-23-13 11:11 AM

What I have noticed over the years because of all these social media networks that our society is becoming more detached from our fellow couterparts and have less compassion for each other and becoming less respectful of each other.


Feb-23-13 11:08 AM

The problem is if you don't deal with the bullies the number one problem. The bullying issue will never ever end. The Aggressor whether physical or through other means must be dealt with harshly and immediately sending an example to the rest of society that these actions will not be tolerated. News media and the entertainment industry could play an important role in this also.


Feb-23-13 11:02 AM

billdoesntgetit you're confusing being childish with bullying that is two different things.


Feb-23-13 8:39 AM

Bullies will never go away, there will always be people who think other peoples misery is funny.


Feb-22-13 10:42 AM

There are probably different approaches that work with different types of bullying. Girls tend to bully through social exclusion or spreading rumors about another kid, these days on Facebook or other social media. Punching the queen bee in the nose probably won't do much good. Boys may be more physical.

All of them are kids, so I don't think it's a great idea to involve the law, as too often seems to be happening these days, but I do think kids who bully others ought to be strongly disciplined both at home and at school and maybe taught in ways that increase their empathy for the victim. Kids who are bullying victims may need social skills training but they should never be made to feel that being bullied is their fault.


Feb-22-13 10:32 AM

My second son was bullied when he was in grade school and was settled very quickly with my support. I told him get your older brother and a few of your friends and find this fellow and get him isolated in the school yard and have a heart to heart talk. End of bullying. My second son is now in the military and have been assigned with special forces in Afganistan and Irag during the height of both wars. So he can stand strong on his own. End of Story.


Feb-22-13 10:22 AM

The power of the bully is that, the bully never gets challenged. We had bullies when I grew up in school and the best thing to deal with them was get a bunch of kids together and beat the crap out of him. End of the bully. Trouble with society today is every parent is telling their children to don't fight back! How can you stop any aggressor by being passive? If you do not stand up for yourself when you are young you will be constantly be knocked around when you get older. Stand your ground.


Feb-22-13 10:20 AM

This particular study apparently made some adjustments to take into account existing childhood psychiatric problems, childhood abuse or other issues and still found that the bullying itself was to blame for an elevated risk of depression, anxiety, etc.

I don't think there's any doubt that kids who have some differences -- gay kids, fat kids, kids who have trouble reading social cues, etc. -- are more likely to be bullied. But when they are, it is likely to have a terrible effect on their mental health, on a par with being a victim of domestic violence. "Bullying" in a lot of cases really means getting punched daily, having a trash can dumped over your head on the school bus, having another kid steal your clothing or school books in the locker room so you have to run out in your underwear looking for them, maybe having other kids say, sometimes on an hourly basis, that you're fat, ugly, a loser, disgusting, etc. If that happened to an adult, it would be a criminal matter.


Feb-22-13 8:14 AM

You are saying bullying causes disorders I think the disorders cause bullying. The schools used to make teachers supervise the students when they were on school property. I don't think there is any way we can protect ourselves from our own personalities.


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