Bullying victims show effects 40 years later, study says

A new study shows victims of childhood bullying can show negative effects up to 40 years later.

I recently wrote a piece on how “non-traditional” family structures don’t seem to have a measurable impact on the happiness of children. Today we have a different study that looks at children in the UK who were bullied, and how they are doing later in life.

In the study dealing with children’s happiness, one of the things that contributed to that happiness was lack of bullying. Students who weren’t bullied said that they were happier than counterpart children who were bullied.

The study presented here looks at bullied children and what happened to them.
The outcomes of being bullied can dog the child throughout his life.

Bullying via Shutterstock

Bullying via Shutterstock

“Children who are bullied—and especially those who are frequently bullied—continue to be at risk for a wide range of poor social, health, and economic outcomes nearly four decades after exposure,” researchers wrote after following up with 7,771 men and women whose parents reported bullying exposure when the participants were ages 7 and 11.

Participants were part of the British National Child Development Study, a 50-year effort that collected data on all children born in England, Scotland, and Wales during a particular week in 1958.

Researchers found that 28% of the children had been occasionally bullied, and 15% had experienced frequent bullying.

So 42% of children reported that they were bullied at times. 42%. That’s a huge number of children. Close to half of the 7,771 children who were followed reported being bullied.

Though this study didn’t specifically look at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children (and some must have been present in the group), one can only guess what the number of gay children who were bullied might have been. By some reports, up to 9 out of 10 gay teens report being bullied.

According to recent gay bullying statistics, gay and lesbian teens are two to three times as more likely to commit teen suicide than other youths. About 30 percent of all completed suicides have been related to sexual identity crisis. Students who also fall into the gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered identity groups report being five times as more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe after being bullied due to their sexual orientation. About 28 percent out of those groups feel forced to drop out of school altogether. Although more and more schools are working to crack down on problems with bullying, teens are still continuing to bully each other due to sexual orientation and other factors.

In a 2005 survey about gay bullying statistics, teens reported that the number two reason they are bullied is because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender expression. The number one reason reported was because of appearance. Teens are at a pivotal point in their young adult lives when they are trying to find out who they are and who they are about to become as adults. This is why being teased, bullied and harassed is something that could negatively affect a person’s self-esteem and view of themselves for the rest of their life.

In fact, about 9 out of 10 LGBT teens have reported being bullied at school within the past year because of their sexual orientation, according to the most recent gay bullying statistics. Out of those numbers, almost half have reported being physically harassed followed by another quarter who reported actually being physically assaulted. Unfortunately most teens who experience bullying of any kind are reluctant to share their experience or report the incident to a teacher or trusted adult. Even more unfortunate are the gay statistics that report a lack of response among those teachers and school administration. According to a recent statistic, out of the students that did report a harassment or bullying situation because of their sexuality, about one third of the school staff didn’t do anything to resolve the issue.

What are the effects of bullying on these children?

Children who were bullied had higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders and they attempted suicide more frequently than children from the same group who weren’t bullied.

These were also seen at ages 23 and ages 50 when these children were followed up. At those later ages the investigators also found that those who had been bullied in childhood were less likely to be in a relationship, had fewer or poorer forms of social support, often had lower levels of education and income and more frequently reported a poorer quality of life than their non-bullied counterparts from the study.

This study demonstrates that the effects of bullying can have life-long consequences for the bullied children. From the data it seems that bullying is a societal problem that affects a large number of children. In a subset of these children, the bullying can be frequent and persistent.

From the other data I cited above, it’s even more frequent in children who are LGBT. Bullying, in all forms, needs to be addressed anywhere it is seen in these children’s lives: schools, sports teams, social events, church activities, families and anywhere else it exists. The results are too severe on the children for us to do otherwise.


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Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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  • Calvin Sanders

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  • Jhonnie Walker

    A lot of parents think that bullying is a problem, but not their kid’s problem.You cannot prove yourself big by seeing others in little sense.Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. Experience is the best teacher.Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. Be kind and be friend who protects save and take concers check this out at http://safekidzone.com/?a_aid=52f12fafd5de8

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  • BadHead

    If you ever go to your high school reunion you realize the outcasts became successful and the bullies ended up in failed marriages with child support payments.

    The study should also look at bullies after 40 years. Bullies hate themselves. I really think what is worst than bullies are the people did nothing and let it happen and didn’t choose sides. They benefited in high school by not being the targets.

  • LanceThruster

    Not surprising as emotional scars have a lasting impact even beyond childhood. It takes it toll regardless.

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  • koolaidyarn

    You’re the first person I’ve seen put it that way. What a sad, yet very true, observation.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Given how, for most bullied children, they cannot escape or do much of anything to stop the bullying they endure, it’s probably past time we applied the appropriate term: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    Not every child will develop it, but many will to some degree, some to the point of life-long psychologically disabling effects, with the associated physical symptoms as well.

  • milli2

    Of course it lasts a lifetime. I still have anxiety attacks whenever I see a school bus.

  • The_Fixer

    Like others who’ve commented, I can also say that this is no surprise. I was bullied at school and bullied/tortured/imprisoned at home. It does leave one with lifelong scars.

    What amazes me is that we still have this problem. More amazing are the number of people who view enduring bullying as a “rite of passage”, and it is just something that one has to “get over.”

    Clearly, this study shows that it is nothing that one can often successfully overcome by themselves. I am heartened that there is so much attention being paid to this serious problem, and only wish we’d given it this kind of scrutiny much sooner.

  • Cletus

    It took many, many years for me to not perceive and react to genuine constructive criticism as a personal attack. Of course the effects last – it comes at a time when your identity, whatever that may be, is just forming.

  • Elijah Shalis

    I was bullied a few times starting in elementary school in 4th grade. The bully would get all the popular boys to gang up on me and beat me up during recess. In 5th grade I cracked and started strangling him and that stopped him from ever doing that again. Then we became friends and in middle school he wanted to see my dick. I guess all anti gay bullies are secretly gay after all. In middle school I was bullied sometimes too but since I grew so fast compared to everyone else, I was one of the tallest and biggest people in the school, probably helped that I was prescribed a steroid cream for a leg rash for a long time.

  • John Ruff

    Absolutely right!

  • CPT_Doom

    They shouldn’t call it “bullying” they should call it what it is – harassment and assault. Maybe if we started charging the perpetrators as the criminals they are, we could cut down a bit on the bullsh*t. Yes I was bullied and I know it has literally scarred me for life.

  • annatopia

    “A new study shows victims of childhood bullying can show negative effects up to 40 years later.”

    yea…. i coulda told ‘em that. interesting article dr. mark.

  • Em Chappell-Root

    I can’t help but wonder how those statistics also correspond to higher rates of bullying for children in poverty, and the difficulty of rising out of poverty as an adult.

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