A study from the Boston Children’s Hospital which was published in Pediatrics on February 17 states that childhood bullying can cause long-term health problems that persist even into adulthood. This study is the first of its kind and examines the effects that bullying has when it begins at a young age and continues right through until the end of high school. Children bullied for a longer span of time have poorer mental and physical health than those who have never been bullied or were only bullied for a few months or years.
The study’s first author, Laura Bogart, PhD, from the Boston Children’s Division of General Pediatrics says that research has proved that persistent bullying severely impacts a child’s health and “that its negative effects can accumulate and get worse with time.” She went on to state that if a situation of bullying is stopped quickly, the chances of it having a “lasting, damaging effect on his or her health down the road” is likely to be minimized.
The study was conducted on 4,297 children studying in grades five to ten in Houston, LA and Birmingham. The children and adolescents were periodically asked questions about their physical and mental well-being and whether or not they had been or were being bullied in school. The disturbing findings indicated that bullying at any age caused symptoms of depression and reduced self-esteem. The victimized children also reported a greater difficulty with running and sports-related activities. The study highlights the need for assistance and counseling long after the bullying has stopped, in order to counteract the deep-rooted ill effects.
Speaking about the results of the study, which proves that bullying can cause long-term health problems, Bogart said there is nothing like a “one-size-fits-all approach” in dealing with the situation. However, early recognition and intervention, along with a set of best practices can go a long way in equipping parents, teachers and counselors to mitigate the damage. The study reports that 22 percent of students were bullied in fifth grade and this percentage dropped to five percent in the seventh grade and about three percent by the time the children reached tenth grade. The children who had the highest degree of mental and physical problems were those who were bullied both currently and in the past. Just below them on the scale where those who were victimized only in the present. The children with the least amount of health problems were those who had been bullied only in the past or not at all.
The manifestations of poor mental health in the participants included anger, fear, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. The aspects of physical health that were affected included an inability to play sports or a disinterest in physical activities. According to Susan Strauss, consultant and author of Sexual Harassment and Bullying: A Guide to Keeping Kids Safe and Holding Schools Accountable, harassment targets race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or religion. Bullying on the other hand is “status-blind” and can happen to anyone. It is this fact that prevents bullying from being recognized when the victim is seen by teachers and parents as being popular or a high achiever.
In order to prevent the long-term health problems that can be caused by bullying, it is crucial to understand and identify some of the signs that may point to its existence in a child’s life. Things to watch out for include suspicious injury, missing or damaged personal belongings such as clothes and books, frequent complaints of headaches, stomach aches and faked illnesses. Other signs can include nightmares, eating a lot more or noticeably less, sudden rages at home, a lack of interest in peer interaction such as playing outdoors or attending events like birthday parties and a reluctance to go to school. While some or even all of this is normal in most children at some point or the other, the occurrence of many of them simultaneously should warrant a red flag in the mind of a responsible adult. Higher up, some of the more dangerous signs include instances of self-destructive behavior or even casual talk about suicide. Anything along these lines should immediately warrant a serious discussion with the child and the school authorities.
By Grace Stephen