Effects of Bullying Last Into Adulthood

Discover how bullying in childhood impacts the adult mind later

Teen boy thinking
iStockphoto

It should come as no surprise that the effects of bullying are significant and long lasting. However, most people assume that as teens age, the consequences of being bullied dissipate. But research shows that this is simply not the case. In fact, studies show that both victims of bullying and bullies are more likely to experience 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.

What researchers have discovered is that the psychological damage from bullying doesn’t go away just 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. Some studies even suggest that being bullied has more significant consequences than maltreatment.

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. These young people 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 also are at risk. In fact, they are at an increased risk of antisocial personality disorder and 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 counselors, doctors and educators to pay attention to what is going on outside the home. Ask kids how they are getting along at school and with their peers. Know the signs of bullying and what to do if you suspect a child is being targeted.

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. Never assume that a child's issues must be related to something wrong in the home. Be sure you are looking at all the contributing factors.

Additionally, now that connections between adult mental health issues and bullying experiences 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. The result will be healthier, happier adults in the future.

Continue Reading