Social Risk Factors for Bullying and Long-term Impact of Being a Bully or Victim

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Psychiatric problems persisted into adulthood. Image by Hussain Khorsheed.

Psychiatric problems persisted into adulthood. Image by Hussain Khorsheed.

As adults, the victims still exhibited effects of bullying.  Bullies were more likely to continue anti-social activities and be diagnosed as having an  “antisocial personality disorder,” while victims of bullying were more likely to suffer from both depression and anxiety disorders as adults.  Women who were bullied as children were more likely to report agoraphobia, and men who were bullying victims as kids were more likely to report “suicidality.”

Combination Bully/victims were also more likely to be depressed, but somewhat surprisingly, the adults did not report higher rates of substance abuse.

The finding that psychiatric problems from bullying persisted into adulthood as well as the lack of higher levels of substance abuse surprised the lead researcher. He states, “In some ways, I was surprised to find these long-term effects to begin with – I was a skeptic coming into this study.  But I am surprised that victims are having a number of long-term emotional problems, but not necessarily substance problems. Part of the answer may be that substance problems are relatively common in early adulthood and then become less common later on.

It may be that as these problems get less common in the late 20s and early 30s we may start to see that victims are more likely to have persistent substance problems.”

Bullying Study: The Implications

This study has a variety of implications. According to Dr. Copeland, “… the long-term emotional consequences of being bullied were much stronger than what we would have expected.  For me, this suggests that being the target of repeated bullying is one of the more damaging experiences of childhood. Bullying is a serious problem, not only for people in childhood, but in adulthood as well.”

The social cost of bullying is high, and long lasting – both for bullies and their victims.  Supporting intervention efforts is more than a feel-good activity, it could prevent the pain of psychiatric disorders and long-term sociological effects. We may think that bullying is just part of life, but bullying hurts, and children don’t outgrow the effects of being a victim or victimizing others.

Resources:

Copeland, W. E. et al. Adult Psychiatric Outcomes of Bullying and Being Bullied by Peers in Childhood and Adolescence. (2013). JAMA Psychiatry: Online First. Accessed February 24, 2013.

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