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New Study: Bullying Lasts a Lifetime

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Bullied children are more likely to grow into adults with anxiety disorders and depression.   Courtesy of: JAMA Psychiatry
Bullied children are more likely to grow into adults with anxiety disorders and depression. Courtesy of: JAMA Psychiatry
 By Mary Anne MeyersContact
February 21, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Those who think bullying is something children "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, Dr. William Copeland, an associate profesor of psychiatry at Duke, said one group was particularly troubled: those who had reacted to being bullied by bullying others.

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

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

Dr. Rochelle Harris, a child psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, said some parents don't realize how much harm bullying can do to a child - and that 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.' Ignoring is a really sophisticated skill that's difficult for everyone, much less a child."

Bullying is not the victim's fault, Harris said, adding that studies have shown that the whole-school approach is what works best.

"Rules about how children treat one another," she said. "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 higher risk of suicide.

Both Harris and Copeland recommended early intervention as a way to prevent problems later on in life.

The study, which appears in the online issue of JAMA Psychiatry, is available online at archpsyc.jamanetwork.com. More information for parents is at childrensmercy.org.

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