The negative impacts of bullying may not stop when recess is over: New research suggests that children who are bullied are more likely to develop mental problems as adults than children who were not bullied.
The new findings suggest bullying could have as much of a formative impact on a person's mental health as other traumatic experiences such as child abuse and maltreatment, according to William Copeland, co-author of the study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.
"I think we need to start viewing the effects of a child's interactions with their peers the same way we view the family effect on childhood," says Copeland, a professor in Duke University's Department of Psychiatry. "In therapy, we ask about what someone's relationship was like with their parents, but we don't ask what happened with their peers."
Copeland's study followed nearly 1,500 students in North Carolina for more than 10 years, discussing bullying with them during annual interviews. About a fourth of children said they were bullied at least once. A decade later, bullied children were more likely to have anxiety problems. Students who were both bullied and did some bullying showed an increased risk for depression and having suicidal thoughts. Strict bullies had an increased risk of anti-social personality disorder, which has been "closely linked with criminal behavior in adulthood," Copeland says.
"Coming into this study, I was skeptical about whether we'd see any lasting emotional effects from bullying. We know in the short term there's a lot of added stress and potential for problems, but we're talking about folks who were a decade away from these experiences," he says. "A lot of these folks probably aren't still thinking a lot about the fact that they were bullied as children, but there may be some hidden emotional effects from it."