While some parents think bullying is something their children will “grow out of,” a new study from Duke University revealed that bullying increases the risk of anxiety and depressive disorders for decades after the incidents, and not just for the victims. The researchers kept tabs on more than 1000 children for up to 20 years and discovered that victims of bullying, and even the bullies themselves, are much more likely to develop severe problems into adulthood.
The lead author of the study, Dr. William Copeland, said one group was even more troubled than the others: those who responded to being the victims of bullying by bullying others.
“The males were at 18 times higher risk of suicidality, the females were at 26 times higher risk of agoraphobia. Males and females were at 14 times higher risk of having panic disorder,” said Copeland.
Copeland says many victims who did not turn to bullying others are now dealing with depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and agoraphobia – that is, fear of being out in public.
Dr. Rochelle Harris, a child psychologist, agrees with Copeland on the long-term effects of bullying; she said some parents don’t realize how much harm bullying can do to a child, and sometimes the way parents respond to the child doesn’t help.
“I’ve heard all kinds of responses from the ‘You don’t have to take it, go back and punch them,’ to the ‘Just ignore, pretend it doesn’t happen.’ Ignoring is a really sophisticated skill that’s difficult for everyone, much less a child,” said Harris.
Harris said bullying is not the victim’s fault and said studies of shown that the best approach is for the whole school to work together.
“Rules about how children treat one another – have them posted all over the place. Teachers are trained to look for subtle aspects of bullying and to intervene,” Harris said.
Both Harris and Copeland recommend early intervention as a method to prevent the development of problems later on in life. The study appears in the online issue of JAMA Psychiatry.