A major new study finds adults who were bullied as children experience negative effects on their physical, emotional, and economic well-being well into middle age, almost forty years later. Researchers at King’s College London examined over 7700 children who were bullied at ages seven and eleven, and later assessed them between the ages of 23 and 50. The study, the first of its kind, was published at the American Psychiatric Association’s prestigious American Journal of Psychiatry.
“Our study shows that the effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later,” says the study’s lead author, Dr Ryu Takizawa. “The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood.”
Adults who were bullied as children were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol dependence, and psychological distress than their non-bullied adult peers. The study also found bullying caused negative outcomes on adult cognitive functioning, socioeconomic status, and social relationships.
“Individuals who were bullied in childhood were also more likely to have lower educational levels, with men who were bullied more likely to be unemployed and earn less,” King’s College London reports. “Social relationships and well-being were also affected. Individuals who had been bullied were less likely to be in a relationship, to have good social support, and were more likely to report lower quality of life and life satisfaction.”
Professor Louise Arseneault, senior author, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s adds: “We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing-up. Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children.”
Professor Arseneault adds: “40 years is a long time, so there will no doubt be additional experiences during the course of these young people’s lives which may either protect them against the effects of bullying, or make things worse. Our next step is to investigate what these are.”
Writing at Forbes, Alice G. Walton notes the “question of why the effects of childhood bulling span the better part of a lifetime is not totally clear, but there are theories.”
The authors suggest that it may be that bullying creates a cycle of victimization that continues throughout life and impacts virtually every realm of life. Or it could be that the stress of being bullied “embeds” itself into the very genes, affecting the hormones and brain chemicals that govern the stress response, mood, and sensitivity to one’s environment.
One Nebraska school, oblivious to the effects of bullying, last week made headlines for sending fifth graders home with a pamphlet that told them to “not tell on bullies” and “don’t be a sore loser” if they are being bullied.
Right wing politicians from Michigan to Tennessee are infamous for passing “license to bully” bills, often using religious freedom as a catalyst to allow students to bully their peers. Some anti-gay hate groups and so-called “pro-family” organizations actually produce programs designed to allow religious students to bully their classmates. Focus On The Family’s “True Tolerance” program claims to offer “New Resources on Bullying Issues,” asking parents, “Concerned about homosexual advocacy in your child’s school?”
Some Christian pundits and activists claim that bullying makes gay students stronger, and anti-bullying laws that combat hate speech are “sissifying” America, while other Christian anti-gay activists actually produce materials designed as tools to directly bully gay students.
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