WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — The effects of childhood bullying can last through adolescence, and even negatively affect victims decades later until the age of 50.
A new study from researchers at King’s College London that tracked 7,771 children born in 1958 found that an increased risk for depression, anxiety and a generally lower quality of life were reported through middle age to 50 years of age. The study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry backs up decades of similar research that shows that both victims and bullies themselves suffer psychiatric problems well into adulthood.
Tracked from the age of 7 through 50, this newest British National Child Development Study tested for psychological distress and general health issues at ages 23 and 50, psychiatric problems at age 45 and cognitive, social well-being tests at 50. By age 45, 78 percent of the study subjects were still being tracked, and 61 percent of the subjects were still in the study to fill out questionnaires at age 50.
Poorer physical and mental health, as well as cognitive functioning, persisted among bullying victims at age 50.
“Our study shows that the effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later,” study author Ryu Takizawa of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, told Forbes. “The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood.”
More than one-quarter (28 percent) of the children had been bullied occasionally during childhood, and 15 percent were bullied frequently – numbers still consistent with bullying data today.
Adolescent bullying victims were more likely to be depressed and have suicidal thoughts. They were also more likely to be less educated, with male bullying victims likely to earn less income and more likely to be unemployed.
“We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing up,” senior study author Louise Arseneault, Ph.D., told BBC News. “Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children.”
The study indicated that the negative effects of bullying persisted even when factors such as childhood IQ, behavioral problems and parental socioeconomic status were viewed in context.
“Forty years is a long time, 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,” Arseneault told the BBC. “Our next step is to investigate what these are.”
However, even anti-bullying programs and protections are an area of debate.
A University of Texas at Arlington study in 2013 found that students at schools with anti-bullying programs might actually be more likely to become a victim of bullying. The “surprising” study results also showed that students at schools with no bullying programs were less likely to become victims.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development writes that children and adolescents who are bullied are at a greater risk for mental health problems including depression, anxiety, headaches, and problems adjusting at school.
Long-term damage is an additional problem, with the NICH reporting that substance abuse, academic problems and violence toward others occurring later in bullying victims’ lives. And the NIH notes that adolescents who are both bullies and victims suffer the most serious effects, especially for an increased risk of depression. “Cyberbulling” victims were at an even higher risk than those bullying them electronically, in addition to victims of in-person bullying.