The negative impacts of childhood bullying are much more pervasive and long-lasting than researchers previously believed, according to a just-published study.
Those bullied in childhood had increased levels of psychological distress at ages 23 and 50, according to the British study that covered a 50-year timespan. Victims of frequent bullying had higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol dependence, and suicidality than their non-victimized peers nearly four decades after exposure. Additionally, childhood bullying victimization was associated with a lack of social relationships, economic hardship, and poor perceived quality of life at age 50.
While those impacts for adults were undocumented up until now, the study also confirms what researchers have long known—that childhood bullying can be devastating.
“Not only do victims of bullying have elevated symptoms of anxiety and depression in childhood and adolescence,” the study reports, “they also show increased rates of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, and psychotic symptoms. As a result, victimization by bullies is increasingly considered alongside maltreatment and neglect as a form of childhood abuse.”
The new study was published in the July 2014 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry: Adult Health Outcomes of Childhood Bullying Victimization: Evidence From a Five-Decade Longitudinal British Birth Cohort. Data were from the British National Child Development Study, a 50-year prospective cohort of births in 1 week in 1958. The authors studied data from 7,771 participants whose parents reported bullying exposure at ages 7 and 11 years, and who participated in follow-up assessments between ages 23 and 50 years. Of the three well-respected researchers who completed the study, one is a Newton International Fellow while another is a British Academy Mid-Career Fellow.
“Like other forms of childhood abuse, bullying victimization has a pervasive effect on functioning and health outcomes up to midlife,” the study concludes. ”Our ﬁndings. . .emphasize the importance of gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the persistence and pervasiveness of the impact of childhood bullying. These risk mechanisms could become suitable targets for intervention programs designed to reverse the effects of early life adversity later in the life course.”
And at least one researcher is already addressing those risk mechanisms.
Dr. Robert Enright, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor, says his research and interventions may be the only ones in the world focusing on pent-up anger as the source of bullying. Dr. Enright, called “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time magazine, has been researching forgiveness for more than 25 years, has created the International Forgiveness Institute to disseminate the results of his work, and has produced Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade that are being used around the world.
Now Dr. Enright has just released a new curriculum guide called “The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program: Reducing the Fury Within Those Who Bully.”This guide can be used by school counselors, social workers, and teachers. It is for students in grade 4 (age 9) through grade 9 (age 14) and is intended for use with those who are showing bullying behavior.
“Bullying behavior does not occur in a vacuum, but can result from deep inner rage, not resulting from those who are bullied but often from others who have hurt them in family, school, or neighborhood,” Dr. Enright says. “The purpose of our guide is to help such students to forgive those who have deeply hurt them so they no longer take out their rage on others.”
International Forgiveness Institute