Study Shows Childhood Bullying Consequences Worse Than Maltreatment

Researchers discover significant consequences of bullying


New research suggests that the consequences from being bullied by peers may have a greater impact on mental health in adulthood than originally thought. What’s more, the impact may even be worse long-term for bullied kids than being maltreated by adults.

A Closer Look at the Study

To determine the effects of bullying on mental health, researchers compared young adults in the United States and the United Kingdom who had been maltreated, bullied or both during childhood.

The participants from the U.S. were part of the Great Smoky Mountain Study while participants from the U.K. were part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The conclusions were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting and published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

This study was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression and the William T. Grant Foundation.

According to the researchers, children who had been bullied by their peers, but did not suffer maltreatment from family members were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety in adulthood than children who experienced child abuse but were not bullied.

Results also showed that in general, children and adolescents were more likely to experience abuse from peers than from parents and other adults.

Furthermore, maltreated children were more likely to be bullied than those not maltreated, which seems to suggest that maltreatment at home may increase risks of victimization in other areas of life.

A Closer Look at the Findings

In the U.S. study, researchers found that the children who had been maltreated but not bullied were four times more likely to have depression during young adulthood than their peers who had not been abused or bullied.

Meanwhile, the children who had been bullied, but not maltreated, were almost four times more likely to have mental health problems than the children who were maltreated but not bullied.

Similarly, in the U.K. study, the children who experienced only bullying were 1.6 times more likely than those who experienced only maltreatment to have mental health problems, anxiety, depression or to have attempted to harm themselves.

For children that were both maltreated and bullied, the consequences were much more dire. These children were at an increased risk for overall mental health problems, anxiety and depression. They also were at risk for self-harm and suicidal tendencies.

A Closer Look at the Implications

Overall, researchers believe that bullying may be more scarring than child maltreatment. One theory is that when it comes to child abuse, society recognizes it as a serious problem and supports the victims. But the opposite is true when it comes to bullying. Many people still do not view bullying as a serious issue or as detrimental to a person’s life as child abuse.

In fact, a number of people feel that bullying is something children experience and that doing so toughens them and prepares them for adulthood.

But studies show that the consequences of bullying are significant. People often struggle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. It also leaves people with poor self-esteem and a lasting sense of distrust of other people.

Although people are becoming more aware of the harmful effects of bullying, there is still much to be done to address the issue. Too many times, adults do not support victims of bullying. Instead, they are often forced to cope with bullying on their own. What’s more, this lack of support and validation for victims of bullying could amplify the harmful consequences of bullying.

Just like a victim of child abuse, victims of bullying need to be told that bullying is not their fault. They need to know that there is nothing wrong with them and that they are not responsible for the choices of another person.

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