New findings suggest that children who are part of the bullying cycle may experience negative health effects and financial hardships later in life.
Although bullying is a common occurrence during adolescence, the lasting implications in adulthood prove to be severe, according to a study led by researchers at Duke Medicine and Warwick University. The study assessed 1,420 people between the ages of nine and 16, and found that victims as well as bullies that later became victims—"bully-victims"—had elevated rates of young adult psychiatric disorders.
“We wanted to get a broad profile of these folks to see if there were lasting scars from their childhood,” said lead author William Copeland, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “We have never really studied this with the long-term outcomes [to see] if bullying tells us anything about how these children look like when they become adults.”
The study found that those who had been bullied or were bully-victims had higher rates of anxiety and depression than those who had not never been bullied. Additionally, bully-victims had higher levels of all anxiety and depressive disorders and had the higher levels of suicidality than just victims. Bullies were also at an increased risk for antisocial personality disorder.
The study also found that victims of bullying had a greater likelihood of being in poverty.
Although this research focused on the effects of childhood bullying, Copeland said that bullying in college, such as hazing, could lead to similar outcomes.
“We would absolutely expect this would exacerbate the problem if students were bullied chronically over time,” Copeland said. “If someone was bullied in childhood and then continued to be bullied in college or adulthood that would cause more problems.”
Freshman Elizabeth Davies-Hogg, who was teased in second grade for her ginger locks, said being bullied is a right of passage during childhood.
“I had always thought of bullying as a playground issue and it shocks me to learn that it affects [people from] college and beyond,” Davies said. “College should be a fresh start for everyone."
The researchers interviewed participants from the Great Smoky Mountain Study, a separate project of Copeland's that aims to estimate the number of young adolescents in North Carolina with emotional and behavioral disorders and the persistence of those disorders over time.
Every year from their enrollment in 1993 until the age of 16, the subjects and their guardians were asked separately if the children had ever been bullied, bullied others or experienced both in the three months prior to the interview. The participants were then interviewed at ages 19, 21 and 24 and 26 years of age.
Because the participants were studied for a prolonged amount of time, Copeland noted they were able to prove that the negative mental health and financial states of the subjects were not caused by confounding factors such as family situation.
Still, not everyone is convinced the study is sound. Freshman Farhan Khan questioned whether the findings were mere coincidence.
“I fully agree [there are] negative psychological effects of bullying, because I’ve witnessed that myself,” Khan said. “But, I have never witnessed financial burdens [as a result]—I believe that is more correlation than causation.”