Bullying is a widespread problem in schools ranging from elementary to high school but the effects it can have can last decades after both the bullies and the victims leave school.
The emotional trauma that bullying causes can lead to problems in both the perpetrators and the victims that can emotionally stunt their lives as adults leading to problems like anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse, experts say.
Katie Hurley, a published child psychotherapist and author of the book “No More Mean Girls,” said some of the mental health issues in adults that were bullied as kids can even reach levels of suicidal thoughts.
“It’s imperative that victims of bullying receive proper treatment to work through the feelings of social isolation and low self-esteem that can result from bullying to prevent problems down the line,” Hurley said.
A 2015 study published by the British Medical Journal found that victims of bullying as children were more likely to internalize their problems, particularly anxiety and depression. This can lead to the problems being undiagnosed and continue to fester untreated.
That same study found the effects of childhood bullying on victims can extend even beyond mental health. Adults who suffered from bullying were found to have an increased risk for poor general health with things like headaches, illnesses and bodily pain. They also tend to have lower educational qualifications and poor financial management skills.
One of the more impactful effects bullying can have later on in a victim’s life is how it changes their ability to parent. Bellville native Austin Dornon, a third-year medical student at Texas A&M University whose father was a child psychiatrist in Houston, said the behavior an adult develops because they were bullied could be projected onto their children.
“It’s not genetic but with things like body image issues can definitely be projected onto the kids if the parents suffer from it,” Dornon said. “The same way they can project positive things, negative things can be learned from parents through behavior and be carried on.”
The lasting effects of bullying are not only found in the victims but in those who bullied as well. With the abusers, Hurley said while some of the effects are the same seen with victims, there are significant other ones as well.
“Bullies are at risk for anxiety, depression, dropping out of school, substance abuse, and early sexual activity,” Hurley said. “Being a bully as a child increases the risk of criminal activity in adulthood and they also carry their negative behaviors into adulthood, tend to have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships and can struggle in the workplace as a result.”
The reason for this is explained in a 2010 study by the American Psychological Association which found that those who were bullies and never victims are more at risk to develop antisocial personality disorder. The disorder causes people to lack empathy and can lead to them manipulating others.
The lead author of the study said while the exact reasons bullying has long-term effects on those involved are still unknown, it could be that being bullied at school is similar to abuse at home.
The APA study estimated the kids that were only victims during their childhood were four times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder as an adult. Kids who were both a victim and a bully throughout their childhood were five times more likely to develop depression and 15 times more to develop a panic disorder.
“The effects of things like anxiety and depression can go from mild to severe and it can stem from bullying in the past and the person would have no idea that’s what caused it,” Dornon said. “Severe anxiety and depression, especially, is the thing that leads to suicidal thoughts and other really damaging effects.”