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New Study: Bullying Lasts a Lifetime

GRAPHIC: There is new evidence that bullied children are more likely to grow into adults with anxiety disorders and depression. Courtesy of JAMA Psychiatry.
GRAPHIC: There is new evidence that bullied children are more likely to grow into adults with anxiety disorders and depression. Courtesy of JAMA Psychiatry.
March 8, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Those who think bullying is something children "grow out of" may want to think again.

A new study from Duke University finds that bullying increases the risk of anxiety and depressive disorders for decades after the incidents.

William Copeland, the study’s lead author, is an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke. He says members of one group are particularly troubled – those who reacted to being bullied by bullying others themselves.

"The males were at 18 times higher risk of suicidality,” Copeland says. “The females were at 26 times higher risk of agoraphobia. Males and females were at 14 times higher risk of having panic disorder."

The researchers followed more than a thousand children for up to 20 years, and found both victims of bullying – and the bullies – much more likely to wind up with severe problems as adults. Copeland says many of them are now dealing with depression, anxiety, panic disorders and more.

Rochelle Harris, a licensed clinical psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, says some parents don't realize how much harm bullying can do to a child – and sometimes, their response to that child is not helpful.

"I've heard all kinds of responses,” she says, “from the, 'You don't have to take it, go back and punch them,' to the, 'Just ignore, pretend it doesn't happen.' Ignoring is a really sophisticated skill that's difficult for everyone, much less a child."

Harris says bullying isn't the victim's fault, and other studies have shown that a "whole school" approach is what works best.

"Rules about how children treat one another,” she explains. “Have them posted all over the place. Teachers are trained to look for subtle aspects of bullying, and to intervene."

Both Harris and Copeland recommend early intervention as a way to prevent problems associated from bullying later in life.

The study appears in the online issue of JAMA Psychiatry.



John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN