Childhood Bullying and Long-Term Mental Health Problems

Bullying at the hands of peers shouldn’t be accepted as a normal part of growing up, and kids shouldn’t be expected to just “get over it.” The trauma is so great that bullied kids may experience emotional scars that remain with them throughout life.

Research on the long-term effects of bullying on school age children has been limited, but the matter has drawn more attention in recent years. According to recent studies in the United States, where approximately 10 percent of children experience frequent bullying, the risk of emotional problems down the road for bullied kids are four times greater than for kids who experience abuse at the hands of adults.

Similarly, a nationwide study conducted in Finland indicates that 20 percent of adults bullied in childhood develop mental health problems serious enough to warrant treatment in their teens or early adult years, and more than 10 percent go on to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder by the time they reach their thirties.

Similar research in the U.K. suggests that bullied kids are 60 percent more likely to develop emotional problems as adults. Adults who were bullied as kids have a higher risk of developing disorders such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, and also are more likely to attempt suicide.

Bullied kids frequently struggle with low self-esteem and poor academic performance, and may drop out of school in their teen years.

Victims of bullying may go on to have serious brushes with the law, including frequent fights and abuse of children or partners. Although it isn’t common, a few may retaliate violently. In most school shootings, the shooter had experienced severe childhood bullying.

Substance abuse and addiction aren’t uncommon for victims of bullying, often serious enough to warrant drug and alcohol addiction and rehab. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia may also require treatment.

Bullying is abuse and should never be tolerated, but many kids are hesitant to tell adults they are being bullied. They may feel ashamed, or they may fear that telling an adult will make matters worse.

It’s up to parents, schools and communities to develop safe environments for kids, and community-wide bullying prevention programs should be available. Children who experience or witness bullying should be encouraged to report to a teacher, coach, counselor or parent whenever bullying takes place.

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