It’s time, folks. We need to discuss the brutal truth about long lasting bullying effects. We need to talk about this right now, because the situation is dire and the effects of bullying can be devastating.
Yes, there’s been a lot of talk about bullying in recent years. So much so, in fact, that some parents and educators are getting sick of hearing about it. They roll their eyes. They walk away. Or they may even respond by saying what happened in their day, claiming that bullying at a young age is a harmless rite of passage.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and claim that those folks were likely not the victims. I’m also going to go out on a limb and claim that their children haven’t been victims either. Besides, their day was before social media amplified bullying effects tenfold – or more. It was also before suicide due to bullying became a frequent occurrence.
Today we know now that bullying affects victims long after the event or events are over, which is further evidence that we must do away once and for all with the myth that bullying is harmless, or a rite of passage.
Long Lasting Bullying Effects
Studies have shown that the effects of bullying can lead to:
Anxiety & Depression
Multiple studies over the years have shown that being bullied as a teenager is strongly associated with anxiety depression later in life. One study found that of the 18 year olds who say they were frequently bullied five years earlier, 15% had clear signs of depression. That’s almost 10 percentage points higher than the depression rates for teens who weren’t bullied, showing the enormous emotional effects of bullying.
In fact, younger people who are bullied are more than twice as likely to use mental health services (like social workers and psychologists) than those kids who weren’t bullied. And the use of these services doesn’t end upon graduation either. Even at age 50, childhood bullying victims were still 30% more likely than those who weren’t bullied to utilize mental health services.
It seems that continued stress from bullying may impair a child’s ability to develop psychological resilience, making it even more difficult to cope with other types of stress later on in life. A study of college students found that having been a victim of bullying was a stronger predictor of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms than many other types of trauma. Female students showed significantly greater levels of post-bully-victim PTSD than males.
Bully victims may turn to food to cope with their feelings. Kids who were chronically bullied in school are more than one and a half times more likely to be overweight as young adults than non-bullied kids. And no, those bullied children were not more likely to be overweight at the time when they were bullied.
Other bully victims may turn away from food. On the other end of the spectrum, being bullied in childhood is also associated with increased risk for eating disorders. Kids who were victims of bullying were at nearly twice the risk of anorexia and bulimia than those who weren’t bullied.
Along similar lines, being bullied in childhood increases the likelihood of self-harm (such as cutting one’s self) in late adolescence. In fact, teens who were subjected to chronic bullying at an earlier age are nearly five times more likely to self-harm later in adolescence. And girls were more likely to self-harm than boys.
Physical Health Concerns
Recently, researchers are focusing more on learning about the effects of bullying on physical health, particularly cardiovascular health. It is already known that stress can affect cardiovascular risk factors, but could childhood stress from bullying impact risk factors for cardiovascular health in adulthood?
It certainly might. Researchers discovered that chronic stress from bullying can, in fact, put a serious strain on the body. Unlike one-time occurrences, chronic bullying effects may not give the body enough time to recover, which could lead to changes in inflammatory, hormonal, and metabolic responses which may contribute to the development of disease over time. One recent study even found that physical inflammation marker levels of adults increase with the number of times individuals were bullied as a kid.
New research also shows that being bullied produces long-lasting sleep dysfunction, and it has long been known that sleep is vital for the body’s mental and physical recovery processes. Consequently, a repeated lack of adequate sleep can exacerbate emotional and physical health concerns.
Bullying effects may lead to less satisfying relationships too. People who were frequently bullied in childhood are less likely to be in a relationship nearly 40 years later. They’re also less likely to feel like they have a good social support system.
Bullying can hurt in the wallet too. People who were bullied in childhood are more likely to have lower educational levels, be unemployed, and earn less than those who weren’t bullied. Furthermore, men who were bullied as children report having more financial difficulties and being less optimistic about the future.
Limiting the Lasting Effects of Bullying
We know now that childhood bullying is not a harmless rite of passage. We must talk to our children, to educators and to law makers. In doing so we can potentially save lives. In doing so we could also prevent future mental health issues, physical issues, relationship issues, and financial issues.
Children should know what they can say and who they can trust if they are a victim, or a bystander. The rules and laws should protect the victims, not the bullies.
We need to openly discuss the brutal truth about long lasting bullying effects. Because the situation is dire and the effects of bullying can be devastating.
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