a young person screamingBullying is largely seen as a childhood problem, but the effects of bullying are persistent and pervasive, according to researchers from King’s College London (KCL). Using data from a cohort of children born in the 1950’s, the researchers compared how children who were bullied fared compared to their peers who were not bullied. They found that the quality of life of adults who were bullied as children was comparatively worse. The results suggest the need for programs that limit bullying and its effects.

The researchers used data from the British National Child Development Study, which collected information from all the children born in England, Scotland, and Wales during one week in 1958. The present study surveyed 7,771 children whose parents provided information on their children’s experiences with bullying at ages 7 and 11. Researchers followed up with the individuals at age 50.

Twenty-eight percent of the children were bullied occasionally and 15% were bullied frequently. Lead author Dr. Ryu Takizwa, of the Institute of Psychiatry at KCL explained that “The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social, and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood.”

The results indicate a lower quality of life and life satisfaction for adults who were victims of bullying as children. At age 50, individuals bullied in childhood were more likely to have poorer physical and psychological health, which increased their risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts compared to their non-bullied peers. They were also more likely to have a lower level of education and less likely to be in a relationship. Men who were bullied had a higher risk of being unemployed and of earning less than their peers.

The researchers explained that the results highlight the importance of bullying-prevention programs. They also call for early interventions to counteract the harmful effects of bullying.

“We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing-up. Teachers, parents, and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children,” commented Professor Louise Arseneault, senior author.

This research is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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