College of Dupage Nursing Student Joyce Koenig reports that recent research indicates that the effects from bullying during childhood or adolescence may have detrimental effects lasting into adulthood. The effects from bullying extend beyond issues of self-esteem and include self-harm and academic failure, lasting, oftentimes long after the bullying has stopped.
Reports from three longitudinal studies; the Epidemiologic Multicenter Child Psychiatric Study in Finland, the Great Smoky Mountains Study in the US, and the National Child Development Study in the UK, demonstrated that adults who were bullied during childhood have higher rates of agoraphobia, depression, anxiety, panic disorder and suicide in their 20’s, and these effects may last into the 50’s. In addition, individuals experienced an increased risk for psychiatric hospitalization and the use of psychiatric medications, at rates comparable to those in foster care or victims of childhood trauma. According to the World Psychiatric Association, these conclusions, cannot be ignored. The findings do not allow causal inferences, however, the population involved separate cohorts from three countries, thus, the consistency of the results is compelling. Childhood IQ, parental socio-economic status and gender were accounted for in the studies. The cohorts were controlled for mental health problems during childhood, indicating bullying contributed to the mental health problems in adulthood.
The observed effects of bullying in adulthood, when it occurs at younger developmental stages, is not completely understood. A interesting study involving twins found a relationship between a serotonin transporter gene in those who were bullied. The bullied twins had a higher level of methylation (a process that can change the activity of a DNA segment) in the gene, and this was associated with a lower cortisol level. Low cortisol levels are associated with aggressive behavior and abnormal social interactions. Research studies have also demonstrated that adults who were bullied during childhood have difficulty in social relationships, poor physical health and financial difficulties.
Bullying is a serious problem that is often overlooked, but must be taken seriously. Strategies to identify and prevent bullying are essential, and must include tackling bullying even after it has already occurred. Youth who suffer from bullying experience significant lasting effects well into their adult years. Hopefully, preventing the significant consequences of victimizations will be feasible; however, until that day, young people should have interventions that limit their distress so they don’t continue to experience bullying into adulthood.