Bullying May Increase Risk for Anxiety, Depressive Disorders

Children who are bullied and bully others may have lasting psychological damage, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry shows.

The study, based on 20 years of data, discredits the theory that people can overcome being bullied as they grow up or when the abuse stops.

“We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person’s long-term functioning,” said William E. Copeland, PhD, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University in a news release.

“This psychological damage doesn’t just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied,” said Copeland, lead author of the study. “This is something that stays with them. If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road.”

More than 1,400 children were followed as they grew up. Researchers kept track of whether they were bullied, teased or bullies themselves.

Young people who were bullied “had higher levels of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia,” the release states.

Additionally, researchers reported that people who were both victims and bullies “had higher levels of all anxiety and depressive disorders, plus the highest levels of suicidal thoughts, depressive disorders, generalized anxiety and panic disorder,” according to the release. “Bullies were also at increased risk for antisocial personality disorder.”

“Bullying is potentially a problem for bullies as well as for victims,” said senior author E. Jane Costello, associate director of research at Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “Bullying, which we tend to think of as a normal and not terribly important part of childhood, turns out to have the potential for very serious consequences for children, adolescents and adults.”

Sources: Duke Medicine News and Communications, JAMA Psychiatry

+ Want to help prevent bullying? Learn more during a Child Bullying Prevention Workshop.

+ Learn how anxiety and depression may be a symptom of sleep disorders.

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