Researchers from Kings College London have found that children who are bullied are at an increased risk of depression and anxiety, and are more likely to report a lower quality of life well into their 50s.
This new research goes beyond a former study from Warwick University, which highlighted the consequences of childhood bullying on health, job prospects and relationships. Instead it shows that the impact of bullying could be longer-lasting.
The study – which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry – tracked 7,771 children born in 1958, from the age of seven until 50.
At the ages of seven and 11, researchers asked parents if their child had been exposed to bullying. More than a quarter said their children had been bullied occasionally, whilst 15% said it occurred more frequently.
Over the years, researchers then carried out tests to see if the known effects of bullying continued into adulthood. They tested for psychological distress and general health at the ages of 23 and 50, for psychiatric problems at 45, and cognitive functioning, social relationships and well-being at 50.
The results showed that those who were bullied frequently as children were still experiencing negative effects of this traumatic time well into adulthood. In fact, many of the subjects showed poorer physical and mental health, and limited cognitive functioning at 50.
Furthermore, social and economic consequences were identified. Those bullied as children tended to be less educated, whilst male victims were more likely to be unemployed and earn less.
Prof Louise Arseneault, senior study author, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said:
“We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing up. Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children.”
Lucie Russell, director of campaigns and media at Young Minds charity, believes follow-up support should be provided to victims of bullying to prevent the effects having a long-term impact and causing permanent psychological damage.
There are also calls for more action from the Government to tackle cyberbullying and trolling, which are increasing young people’s vulnerability to bullying today.