Victims of bullying during childhood were at increased risk of anxiety disorders in adulthood, and those who were both victims and perpetrators were at increased risk of adult depression and panic disorder, according to a study published by JAMA Psychiatry, a JAMA Network publication.
While bullying is still commonly viewed as a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up, it has been repeatedly reported that being a victim of bullying increases the risk of adverse outcomes such as physical health problems and behavior and emotional problems, as well as depression, psychotic symptoms and poor school achievement, the authors write in the study background.
William E. Copeland, Ph.D., of Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., and colleagues examined whether bullying, being bullied or both in childhood predicts psychiatric problems and suicidality in young adulthood after accounting for childhood psychiatric problems and family hardships.
The study included a total of 1,420 participants who were assessed four to six times between the ages of 9 and 16 years. The participants were categorized as bullies only, victims only, bullies and victims, or neither.
“Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. Victims of bullying are at increased risk for emotional disorders in adulthood. Bullies/victims are at highest risk and are most likely to think about or plan suicide. These problems are associated with great emotional and financial costs to society,” the authors note.
According to the results, victims and bullies/victims had elevated rates of young adult psychiatric disorders, but also elevated rates of childhood psychiatric disorders and family hardships. After controlling for those childhood psychiatric problems or family hardships, the researchers found that victims continued to have a higher prevalence of agoraphobia (odds ratio [OR], 4.6); generalized anxiety (OR 2.7) and panic disorder (OR 3.1). Researchers also report that bullies/victims were at increased risk of young adult depression (OR 4.8), panic disorder (OR 14.5), agoraphobia (females only, OR 26.7) and suicidality (males only, OR 18.5). Bullies were at risk for antisocial personality disorder only (OR 4.1), the study results indicate.
“Bullying can be easily assessed and monitored by health professionals and school personnel, and effective interventions that reduce victimization are available. Such interventions are likely to reduce human suffering and long-term health costs and provide a safer environment for children to grow up in,” the study concludes.