Bullied children are six times more likely to have a serious illness, smoke regularly or develop a psychiatric disorder in adulthood, according to a sudy.
Research by the University of Warwick and Duke University in the US was the first to investigate how being bullied as a child might affect you as an adult. It said: “Bullying should not be seen as a harmless rite of passage.”
It followed more than 1400 participants from childhood into adulthood.
Children were put into four categories:
- Victim only – who reported being bullied but never bullied others
- Bullies only – who bullied, but had never been bullied themselves
- Bully-victims – who had been victims of bulluing, and also bullied others
- Not involved in bullying
Nearly two thirds of the children it followed were not involved in bullying. A quarter were “victims only”, 7.9% were “bullies only”, and 6.1% were “bully-victims”. Both “bully-victims” and “bullies” were more likely to be male.
The research, published in Psychological Science, adjusted the results for childhood hardships and psychiatric problems. It found that, despite this, both the “victims only” and the “bully-victims” groups had financial problems and poorer social relationships as adults than the “not involved in bullying” group.
“Bully-victims” were also six times more likely to be obese, have a serious illness, smoke regularly, have fewer friends or develop a psychiatric disorder as adults than the “not involved in bullying” group.
The “bullies only” group were more likely to be in a violent relationship, involved in risky behaviour, take drugs, fight, and have one-night stands with strangers. In terms of health and wealth, however, the “bullies only” group were more successful than the victims.
These “bullies only” were described as showing aggressive, “deviant” behaviour as children, but were strong and socially capable.
“We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless, almost inevitable, part of growing up. We need to change this mindset and acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole; the effects are long-lasting and significant,” said Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick.
Emma-Jane Cross, founder of the anti-bullying charity BeatBullying, told the BBC: “This groundbreaking study shines a light on what has been an overlooked subject for society and the economy. The findings demonstrate for the first time just how far-reaching and damaging the consequences of bullying can be.”
The NHS said: “It is possible that involvement in bullying is a marker for a pre-existing condition such as a psychiatric problem which could also damage prospects in adulthood.
“On the other hand, as the authors point out [in the study], it is possible that bullying was caused by psychiatric problems in childhood, a factor that was adjusted for in their analysis. This may have led to an underestimate of the long term effects.”