Victims of childhood bullying can suffer its negative effects well into adulthood. Just how long? British psychiatrists who tracked the lives of more than 7,000 children born in 1958 up to the age of 50 reported effects lasted more than four decades. For some, that's a whole lifetime.
For victims of bullying, sometimes it does get better. But when it doesn't, it can get bad. Really bad. And for a very, very long time.
The negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are still evident nearly 40 years later, according to research by British psychiatrists.
In the first study of its kind to look at the effects of childhood bullying beyond early adulthood, researchers say its impact is “persistent and pervasive”, with people who were bullied when young more likely to have poorer physical and psychological health, and poorer cognitive functioning at age 50.
“The effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later... with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood,” says Ryu Takizawa, who led the study at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, comes from the British National Child Development Study, which includes data on all babies born in England, Scotland and Wales during one week in 1958. It included 7,771 children whose parents gave information on their child’s exposure to bullying when they were aged seven and 11. The kids were then followed up until they reached 50.
Bullying is characterised by repeated hurtful actions by kids of a similar age, where the victim finds it difficult to defend themselves. In the study, 28% of the children had been bullied occasionally, and 15% were bullied frequently. These rates were similar to the situation in Britain today, say researchers.
The study, which adjusted for other factors such as childhood IQ, emotional and behavioural problems, and low parental involvement, found people who were frequently bullied in childhood were at an increased risk of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Victims of bullying were more likely to have lower educational levels, less likely to be in a relationship, and more likely to report lower quality of life. Men who had been bullied were also more likely to be unemployed and earn less.
Louise Arseneault, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s and who also worked on the study, says its findings showed how important it is “to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing-up”.
“Teachers, parents and policy makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions,” says Arseneault. – Reuters