Victims of bullies continue to suffer from their experiences decades later. In fact, the psychological consequences and scars from childhood bullying are likely to still be with them in middle age, according to new research, and can possibly last throughout their life.
The ill effects of bullying on youth have been analyzed extensively, but a new study followed people who were bullied as kids well into adulthood. They found that those who were victims of bullies in childhood suffered higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicide decades later.
Previous studies from Finland showed that those who were bullied as kids continued to suffer as young adults. The girls who were bullied were more likely to attempt suicide by age 25 and boys were more likely to develop anxiety disorders than those who were not tormented as kids.
New research published online by the American Journal of Psychiatry takes a longer view of the aftershocks from bullying. Researchers examined data on roughly 18,000 people who were born in England, Scotland and Wales during a single week in 1958 and then tracked periodically into their 50s as part of a National Child Development Study in the United Kingdom.
When the study subjects were 7 and 11 years old, the researchers interviewed their parents about bullying. Parents reported whether their children had ever been bullied by other kids and, if so, how often. Overall, 28 percent of those kids in the study were reported by their parents to suffer from bullying occasionally and an additional 15 percent were frequently victims. Boys were more likely to be picked on than girls.
By the time the study subjects were in their mid-40s, only 78 percent were still being tracked. That group was assessed at age 45 for anxiety and depression. The 61 percent still remaining in the study when they turned age 50 were asked fill out a questionnaire on their psychological distress.
The researchers found that those who were occasionally or frequently subjected to bullying in their childhood showed that psychological scars can last long after the bullying occurred. Those bullied were more likely than those who were never bullied to be depressed, to assess their health as poor, and to have more problems with cognitive functioning. In addition, those who were bullied as kids had a greater risk of anxiety disorders and committing suicide.
The research showed that the consequences of bullying were economic as well as psychological. Those in the study who had been bullied wound up with fewer years of schooling than their peers. Men in the group were more likely to earn less or be unemployed.
Adults who were bullied as kids tended to still remain socially isolated too. The bullying victims were not as likely to have a spouse or domestic partner at age 50. They were not as likely to have spent time with any friends recently or have someone to turn to if they were ill or had problems. Overall, sad to say, those who were bullied as kids still felt their quality of life was worse than those who had not been picked on and were not optimistic that their lives could improve in the future.
The findings compellingly show that bullying victimization survives the test of time, according to the researchers. They noted that the scars from childhood bullying and victimization can last and affect many spheres of a victim’s life.
By Dyanne Weiss