'Being bullied worse than neglect and abuse,' study says
Being bullied as a child has more damaging consequences than being the victim of abuse or neglect
Being bullied as a child has more damaging consequences than being the victim of abuse or neglect, a new study shows.
Children who are bullied are around five times more likely to experience anxiety and are nearly as twice as likely to report more depression and self-harm at age 18 than children who are maltreated.
The study of roughly 5,500 youngsters led by academics at Warwick and Duke universities goes against the long-held belief that those who suffer maltreatment suffer trauma for decades whereas those who are bullied merely go through “a rite of passage”.
Children who are victims of bullying suffer more damaging, long-lasting effects because it is downplayed by teachers and parents and not addressed as quickly as maltreatment, researchers said.
Professor William Copeland at North Carolina’s Duke University School of Medicine said: “The long term effects of bullying are anxiety, depression [or suicidal tendencies. We looked at those who were bullied only, maltreated only and exposed to both and found that the negative effects are higher in those bullied than maltreated.
“This turns the world a little upside down because we typically think of those maltreated as having a traumatic experience that will affect their emotional functioning for decades and we think of bullying as a rite of passage, a common experience with no lasting effects.
“Our research found the effects of bullying are worse than being abused at home.”
Professor Copeland, who carried out the research with colleagues at Warwick University in the UK, said people underestimated the negative impact of bullying.
He said: “Because of the core experience of social humiliation at home or school bullying can be a powerful experience. Bullied kids are singled out and their [grief] is often not addressed very quickly which can lead to an accumulated toll of that experience that stays with them.
“People don’t necessarily get a lot of support when bullied or experience significant adults, like teachers or parents, downplay it. This creates a sense within the individual that something is wrong with them and that they should get over it with little help.”
The study published in The Lancet Psychiatry is the first to directly compare the effects of maltreatment by adults and peer bullying in childhood on mental health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal tendencies.
It analysed 4,026 youngsters from the UK Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) whose parents provided information on maltreatment between the ages of 8 weeks and 8.6 years and their child's reports of bullying when they were eight, ten and 13.
It also studied 1,420 children from the Great Smoky Mountain Studies (GSMS) in the US who reported information on maltreatment and bullying between the ages of 9 and 16.