The Psychological Toll Of Childhood Bullying Can Persist For Decades
A new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry finds what others had hinted at but not quite arrived at: That the effects of childhood bullying can last not only through adolescence and young adulthood, but also through middle age. Earlier studies had shown the negative psychological and social effects of bullying to be evident into a person’s 20s, but the new research tracked the psychological health and cognitive function of once-bullied kids till they were 50. And the effects of bullying – particularly of severe bullying – affected a person’s well-being in a great number of ways. All the more reason, the authors urge, to take bullying just as seriously as we would any other form of childhood abuse.
“Our study shows that the effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later,” said study author Ryu Takizawa of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. “The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood.”
The study tracked over 7,700 children whose families were part of the British National Child Development Study, also known as the 1958 Birth Cohort Study, which captures data from all the children born within one week in 1958 in England, Scotland, and Wales. The parents provided information about the children, including any experiences with bullying, when they were 7 and 11 years old.
Over a quarter of the children in the study – 28% – had been bullied occasionally, and 15% bullied frequently, which the authors say is about what it is today.
The kids were followed as they aged, and asked about their mental health, social relationships, quality of life, and professional and economic situations.
It turned out that on almost every measure, people who’d been bullied as children had more problems across life. Being bullied either occasionally or frequently was linked to greater psychological distress at age 23 and age 50 – and being bullied frequently as a child was associated with greater risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidality at age 45. It was also linked to poorer cognitive function at age 50, which is a disturbing finding in itself. The authors suggest it may mirror the known link between childhood maltreatment and cognitive function or it could be a sign of early aging, both of which have been indicated by previous studies.
The team also found that frequent childhood bullying was linked to lower educational levels, a greater likelihood of being unemployed, and having a lower salary at age 50. People who had been bullied as children were also less likely to live with a partner or spouse at that age, less able to call on friends in the case of illness, and even less likely to have met up with friends in the recent past. People who had been bullied as kids were also not only less satisfied with their lives in the present, but they anticipated being less satisfied in the future, compared to non-bullied counterparts.
The results held strong even after the researchers controlled for potentially confounding factors like childhood IQ, the family’s socioeconomic status, and low parental involvement.
The question of why the effects of childhood bulling span the better part of a lifetime is not totally clear, but there are theories. The authors suggest that it may be that bullying creates a cycle of victimization that continues throughout life and impacts virtually every realm of life. Or it could be that the stress of being bullied “embeds” itself into the very genes, affecting the hormones and brain chemicals that govern the stress response, mood, and sensitivity to one’s environment.
The next step will be to find out what factors in life may reduce or amplify the lingering effects of bullying. “40 years is a long time,” says senior author Louise Arseneault, “so there will no doubt be additional experiences during the course of these young people’s lives which may either protect them against the effects of bullying, or make things worse. Our next step is to investigate what these are.”
But in the meantime, early intervention is key. The results, the authors say, are strong evidence that we need to take bullying even more seriously, since it’s no different from any other form of child abuse. ”We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing-up,” said Arseneault. “Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children.” And it will be a joint project. Public and school programs can do their parts, but teaching our kids from the earliest age to treat peers with kindness and respect will be an equally important part of the process.
(Posted on :FORBES)
Contributor: Alice G.Walton