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New Study: Bullying Lasts a Lifetime

ILLUSTRATION: A new study finds bullied children are more likely to grow into adults with anxiety disorders and depression. Image courtesy of: JAMA Psychiatry
ILLUSTRATION: A new study finds bullied children are more likely to grow into adults with anxiety disorders and depression. Image courtesy of: JAMA Psychiatry
February 22, 2013

PHOENIX – Those who think bullying is something kids "grow out of" may want to think again.

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

The researchers followed more than 1,000 children for up to 20 years, and found victims of bullying, and the bullies, much more likely to wind up with severe problems as adults.

The lead author of the study, William Copeland, says one group was particularly troubled – those who had reacted to being bullied by bullying others themselves.

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

Copeland says many of those who had been victims and had not turned to bullying, are now dealing with depression, anxiety, panic disorders and fear of being out in public.

Child psychologist Rochelle Harris 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 from the 'you don't have to take it, go back and punch them,' to the 'just ignore, pretend it doesn't happen,' she says. “Ignoring is a really sophisticated skill that's difficult for everyone, much less a child."

Harris says bullying is not the victim's fault and studies have shown that the 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."

Bullying doesn't only lead to problems for the victims. The study found that bullies who had not been victimized themselves were much more likely to develop antisocial personality disorders as adults and had a high risk of suicide.

Both Harris and Copeland recommend early intervention as a way to prevent problems later on in life. The study appears in the online issue of JAMA Psychiatry.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ