DENVER – Those who think bullying is something kids “grow out of” may want to think again. A new study from Duke University finds that bullying increases the risk of anxiety and depressive disorders for decades after the incidents. The researchers followed more than a thousand children for up to 20 years, and found that victims of bullying, as well as the bullies themselves, are much more likely to wind up with severe problems as adults.
According to lead author Dr. William Copeland, an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke, one group is particularly troubled: those who had reacted to being bullied by bullying others themselves.
“The males were at 18 times higher risk of suicidality,” Copeland specified. “The females were at 26 times higher risk of agoraphobia. Males and females were at 14 times higher risk of having panic disorder.”
Copeland said many of those who had been victims and had not turned to bullying are now dealing with depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and the agoraphobic fear of being out in public.
Rochelle Harris, Ph.D., a child psychologist, said some parents don’t realize how much harm bullying can do to a child and sometimes, their response to that child is not helpful.
“I’ve heard all kinds of responses from the, ‘You don’t have to take it, go back and punch ’em,’ to the, ‘Just ignore, pretend it doesn’t happen.’ Ignoring is a really sophisticated skill that’s difficult for everyone, much less a child,” Harris said.
She added that bullying isn’t the victim’s fault, and pointed out that other studies have shown that a “whole school” approach is what works best.
“Rules about how children treat one another: have them posted all over the place,” she suggested. “Teachers are trained to look for subtle aspects of bullying, and to intervene.”
The study also found that bullies who had not been victimized were much more likely to develop antisocial personality disorders as adults, with a high risk of suicide.
Both Harris and Copeland recommend early intervention as a way to prevent problems later in life.
The study appears in the online issue of Psychiatry, part of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
See the study at archpsyc.jamanetwork.com.
Information for parents is at ChildrensMercy.org.