A study published in the journal Pediatrics on Feb. 17 shows increased negative long-term health effects for the victims of bullying. The lead author is Boston Children’s Hospital associate professor of pediatrics, Laura Bogart. The study involved 4,297 fifth through tenth graders from public schools in Los Angeles, Houston and Birmingham. Children were interviewed in English or Spanish and were asked questions such as, “How often did kids kick or push you in a mean way during the past 12 months?” Their answers regarding the quantity of times they were victims of particular actions, as well as the qualities of those actions, defined the groups children would be put into. Four groups were then defined and studied: Those who had never been bullied; those bullied only in the past; those currently being bullied; and those who are ongoing victims of bullying. The health effects are clear.
Victims’ mental health is more directly affected when bullying is long-term and continuous. Mental health includes things like anger and depression. Of tenth-grade victims, those bullied over the long term showed figures of 45 percent lower mental health. This figure is reduced to 31 percent for those currently being bullied, 12 percent for those bullied in the past alone, and only seven percent for those who had never been victims of bullying. Depression affects eight percent of tenth grade children who have not been bullied, as opposed to 13 percent for those bullied in the past alone. 19 percent of those presently being bullied are depressed, and the highest figure is for victims of long-term bullying, both past and present: 30 percent suffer from depression—almost one-third—showing a seemingly clear negative impact on mental health.
It is interesting to note that figures for the umbrella category of mental health and its subcategory of depression are quite similar, except among victims not bullied in the past, but presently being bullied. Here, numbers show a 12 percent difference. This suggests that among the other groups—those not bullied, those bullied in the past, and those bullied both past and present, depression is the main factor lowering mental health. The significant difference in the group not bullied in the past but presently being bullied suggests much higher levels of anger than in other groups, even though one of those other groups also has people still being bullied. The key word here is “still.” If victims from the group bullied over the long-term are not so angry, it may be because long-term victimization has so accustomed them to unhealthy treatment they have accepted it. This only proves the study’s main find: that health is more negatively impacted for long-term sufferers. One might surmise that if these children are not as angry it might in fact be a good thing, but acceptance of routine maltreatment suggests a significantly larger drop in feelings of self-worth, another area measured by the study. Indeed, this is the case.
60 percent of participants were from families with an income lower than $50,000, and more than 50 percent of parents did not complete high school. It is unclear how much correlation there is between socioeconomic status and the effect on victims of long-term bullying, but it is clear that health is affected. Fifth graders reported higher rates of bullying, at 22 percent, whereas older students reported substantially less bullying, with seventh grade students at five percent and tenth grade students at three percent. Victims of persistent bullying reported having trouble with simple physical tasks, such as playing sports, as well as walking and running.
Bogart tells parents to speak with their children as much as possible, and to pay attention to potential physical indicators such as scrapes and bruises. Also, if children are often sad or do not want to go to school, parents need to find out why. Earlier and more consistent, long-term intervention is necessary to improve a child’s chances at being a healthy individual—so that they will not forever be victims of their school-age bullying, long after this bullying is in the past.
By Julie Mahfood