A just released long-term study by Duke University supports earlier research that the effects of bullying last into adulthood. The new study is significant in that it represents 20 years worth of work on the part of the researchers.
In the study, 1,400 children ages 9, 11, and 13 were interviewed. During these interviews, the children were asked about their experiences bullying or being bullied. After sorting their responses, it was determined that 5% were children who solely bullied others and were not bullied themselves, 21% were exclusively victims of bullying, and 4.5% were both bullies and bullied at various times.
The participants were surveyed twice again between the ages of 19 and 26. In the interviews during their adulthood, the questions were an assessment of their general mental health. These types of questions allowed practitioners to obtain data on the prevalence of various mental disorders among the various groups and compare it to the control population (students who had no active role as bullies or victims).
Researchers then controlled the study for variables such as childhood psychiatric disorders, family history, abuse, and family hardship. The results showed children who had been the targets of bullies were far more likely to suffer from anxiety disorder as adults than children who had not been the targets of bullies.
For students who solely bullied, the sole finding was that they were more likely to grow up to have antisocial personality disorder than children who were not bullies.
Grown-up students who had both been targeted and targeted others were many times more likely to develop panic disorder as adults, compared to those who did not experience bullying. This group of adults were 4 times more likely to suffer from depression than the control group. Men who had engaged in both roles as youths were nearly 20 times more likely to have had suicidal thoughts in adulthood, compared to the participants who had not been bullied or perpetrators.
In general, most studies produce correlation results. This means that researchers are precluded from concluding that one thing is the cause of another. With the type of study conducted here by the Duke researchers, where the data was conducted longitudinally over multiple interviews, researchers have a much greater ability to address cause and effect.
In an interview with the New York Times, the lead author of the study, Dr. William E. Copeland, PhD, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University, stated, "We were actually able to say being a victim of bullying is having an effect a decade later, above and beyond other psychiatric problems in childhood and other adversities.”
If your child is a victim of bullying or you fear he or she may be a bully, here are some resources that may be of assistance: stopbullying.gov, kidsagainstbullying.com, and locally here in Santa Ana, you can check out bullyproofed.org.