Despite the rise of scary bullying stories in the news, many say anyone who has been through middle school will experience bullying and they’ll get over it. But a new study from Duke University shows that the effects and duration of bullying might be more serious than we thought. Lead study author Professor William E. Copeland said, “We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person’s long-term functioning. This psychological damage doesn’t just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied. This is something that stays with them. If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road.”
The study focused on 1,420 children who had been bullied, did the bullying, and were both bullies and victims in western North Carolina from 1993 to 2012. At the beginning of the study the children were 9, 11, and 13 years old and were interviewed every year until age 16 and then periodically from ages 17 on. At the yearly interviews, both the children and their parents were asked a number of questions about their interactions with their peers and whether or not they’d been bullied. Twenty-six percent, or 421, of children reported having been bullied at least once; 887 reported they experienced no bullying; about 200 admitted to bullying others. Just 112 of the participants reported being victims only while 86 said they were bully-victims, kids who had been on both ends. The research took into account physical and emotional bullying; girls and boys were victims of bullying equally. Researchers followed 1,270 of their subjects into adulthood. The interviews included questions about psychological health once the children reached adulthood.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the study found that people who had been bullied as children were at a much greater risk for psychiatric disorders as adults. But even those who were both bully and bullied were more at risk for psychiatric disorders. Those who were victims only faced high instances of depressive disorders, panic disorder and anxiety disorders like agoraphobia.
What was perhaps most shocking for researchers is that even the bullies were at greater risk for psychological conditions, primarily antisocial personality disorder. When trying to understand the occurrence of these disorders in their subjects, researchers were able to separate the which disorders were brought on by things like poverty and abuse.
This new information leads researchers, even the initially skeptical Professor Copeland, to realize bullying is more than just a normal part of childhood. They hope their research will force school administrators and parents to do more to prevent bullying.