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Latimer: Long-term effects of childhood bullying
With another school year winding down, it may seem a strange time to bring up a subject often affecting our kids when they’re out on the schoolyard.
But just as there is no one season for childhood bullying, there is also new evidence to suggest its effects last far longer than the school year.
A new longitudinal study out of the UK followed 8,000 people for up to 50 years to determine the long-term effects of childhood bullying. Results were published last month in AJP in Advance.
Being a victim of childhood bullying was associated with persistent and pervasive negative effects well into middle age.
Researchers examined data concerning bullying exposure between the ages of 7 and 11 and then followed up between the ages of 23 and 50. Bullying was fairly common for this population who grew up in the 1960s with more than a quarter of subjects experiencing some bullying and 15 percent reporting frequent bullying.
Victims of bullying had higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation at age 45 than those who had not been bullied. They were also less likely to be living with a partner or having other social relationships and were more likely to experience financial strain, have a poor perceived quality of life and self-report poor cognitive functioning at age 50.
Although the results are stark, they are not all that surprising given our knowledge of the lasting impact of any childhood trauma. Childhood is an important and formative time for individuals and lays a foundation for future mental health.
It is important to realize the potential for childhood bullying to harm the mental health and well being of adults well into middle age. Although bullying has received wider attention from schools, parents and the media in recent years, we now have one more convincing reason not to ignore it.
We must do all we can to prevent bullying at a young age and ensure we provide safe, friendly spaces at schools and other places where kids get together.
Further, when we become aware of bullying behaviour, we cannot hide our heads in the sand. We must face it and do what we can to not only stop the behaviour, but also to mitigate the lasting impact it can have on victims.
Researchers in this study suggest psychiatrists need to take a more active role in schools and be willing to work alongside school staff to manage the victimization that can and does occur.
At least when a psychiatrist or other mental health professional is working with a school-aged patient experiencing bullying, it would be helpful to ensure the issue is being addressed in a coordinated fashion between the health professionals, school staff and parents.
This is a preventable problem when we work together.