Effects of Bullying Last Into Adulthood

Discover how bullying in childhood impacts the adult mind later

Teen boy thinking

For years, research has shown that both victims of bullying and bullies are more likely to experience psychiatric problems. But now, researchers have found an elevated risk of psychiatric problems even in adulthood.

What Does the Research Show?

Until recently, bullying was thought to be a normal part of childhood that kids eventually dealt with and then moved on. And while the consequences of bullying at the time are significant, no one considered that they could extend into adulthood.

Now, research shows that bullying in childhood can have very serious consequences both at the time it is occurring as well as when the victims or bullies enter adulthood. Sometimes the risk even extends for more than a decade after the humiliation and intimidation has ended.

Researchers have discovered that the psychological damage from bullying doesn’t go away because a person grows up and is no longer bullied. Instead, the impact of bullying is something that stays with them. Bullied children grow into adults with an increased risk of anxiety disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts. In fact, researchers have found similarities among kids who were bullied and kids who were abused, maltreated or even treated harshly within a family setting.

Who Is Most at Risk?

Bullying is a long-term problem for both bullies and victims. But for those who were both bullies and victims, or bully-victims, the risk is even higher.

They experience higher levels of anxiety and depressive disorders than those who were just bullies or just victims. Bully-victims also have the highest level of suicidal thoughts, depression, generalized anxiety disorders and panic disorders.

In fact, bully-victims are more than 14 times more likely to develop panic disorders as adults compared to those who did not experience bullying.

They also are nearly five times more likely to develop depression. Researchers also found that men who were bully-victims are more than 18 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts in adulthood when compared to people who had not been bullies or victims. And female bully-victims are nearly 27 times more likely to have developed agoraphobia, compared to children not exposed to bullying.

Meanwhile, bullies are at an increased risk of antisocial personality disorder. In fact, they are more than four times more likely to have antisocial personality disorder as adults than those who were never exposed to bullying as kids.

What Conclusions Can Be Drawn?

This research suggests that what goes on at school and between peers may be just as important as what is going on at home. As a result, it is important for bullying prevention advocates, counselors, doctors and educators to focus on more than what is going on at home. It is also important to ask how they are getting along at school and with their peers.

Remember, bullying peaks in the middle school years. And, kids are spending a great deal more time at school and with their peers than they do with their parents. So it would make sense that bullying could be contributing to their issues more than their home lives.

Additionally, now that connections between adult mental health issues and bullying are being drawn, there is a need for better interventions. Remember, the experiences people have in childhood help mold them into the adults they later become. It is better for everyone involved if bullying is not only dealt with effectively at a young age, but also prevented as much as possible.

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