The American Journal of Psychiatry published a study this month that individuals who were bullied between the ages of 7 and 11 experienced feelings of poor general health between the ages of 20 and 50, and showed signs of impaired cognitive function in their 50’s. The results of this study suggest that victims of childhood bullying could suffer from the negative effects throughout adulthood. The scars of which promote anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and set-backs in physical health.
The British National Child Development Study, led by Newton International Fellow Ryu Takizawa, covered individuals throughout the UK that were born in 1958, in the same week. For 50 years the 7,771 participants were followed throughout their lives, while data was collected from the children’s parents on their child’s exposure to bullying between the ages of 7 to 11. The participants continued to be surveyed into adulthood, assessing the impact of bullying on participants at ages 23, 45, and 50.
The study found that 28 percent of the participants were bullied occasionally, and 15 percent were bullied frequently. In comparison to individuals who had not been bullied, , experiencing not only poorer physical and mental health, with an increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and thoughts of suicide, but also were shown to have lower levels of education, higher levels of unemployment, and generally experienced less satisfaction with life.
Senior author of the study, Louise Arseneault, said that those who were victims of childhood bullying suffered effects far beyond childhood and, “seem to be less likely to live with a partner, or have friends that they can speak to or rely on…” Arseneault continued to explain that most people are under the impression that children who were bullied would grow out of it as they got older, but the study shows otherwise. The study, Arseneault mentioned, accounted for factors such as poverty, family conflict and evidence of physical and sexual abuse, which may also impact a person’s chances of leading a healthy life. She expressed that while the study could not definitively state that bullying was the cause of long-lasting problems throughout a person’s life, this study is one of many which point to the correlation between bullying and reduced physical and mental health being more than just coincidental.
The percentage of children who were bullied in the UK study do not differ from the current rate of exposure to bullying in the US today. During the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in 2011, President Obama explained that a third of middle school and high school students have reported being bullied throughout the school year, with nearly 3 million students who experienced physical bullying in the form of pushing, shoving, tripping, or being spit on in some cases. Statistics on bullying show that while half of all children will experience bullying at some point, 10 percent of children are bullied consistently throughout their childhood.
President Obama articulated that bullying is more likely to affect children who are seen as different, that is, children who are of a different ethnicity, social or economic class, sexual orientation, or children with a disability. Bullying can lead to poor performance in school and even cause some students to drop out all together out of fear, insecurity, or reduced morale. Moreover, with advancements in technology, bullying does not end on campus but follows children in their emails, on their social media pages, and cellphones as cyber-bullying accounts for 25 percent of bullying among children.
Arseneault insists that society needs to move away from the perception that bullying is an inevitable part of growing up. The whole community needs to be aware of the fact that what happens at school can have negative consequences for children for the rest of their lives, Arseneault said, and programs to stop bullying are essential to their future well-being. Since victims of bullying have been shown to suffer the negative effects far beyond childhood, early intervention is necessary in order to prevent potential problems from manifesting into adolescence and persisting throughout adulthood.
By Natalia Sanchez