The Mental Impact of Bullying May Get Worse Over Time

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Bullying was once thought of as “just a part of growing up,” but more and more evidence shows that bullying can have a devastating effect on a child’s psyche. Even worse, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics says that that mental and physical harm may build up over time as bullying persists.

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

Researchers analyzed data from the Healthy Passages study, which surveys students from Alabama, California, and Texas about how much bullying they have experienced and assessing their physical and mental health. The negative mental impact of bullying has been studied before, but the vast majority of research only assesses children at a set point in time. Few evaluated the long term impacts.

In total, 4,297 students completed the survey during fifth, seventh, and 10th grades.

“I think this is overwhelming support for early interventions and immediate interventions and really advancing the science about interventions,” Laura Bogart, from Boston Children’s Hospital, told Reuters Health.

Bogart and her colleagues saw that a third of the students surveyed had been regularly bullied at some point during their education. The researchers also noted a pattern where those who were bullied in the past scored better on measures of mental and physical health than those currently being bullied, but those who suffered consistent bullying scored the worst.

Roughly eight percent of 10th grade students who were never bullied had poor physical health. This is significantly better than the 12 percent of those who were bullied in the past, 26 percent currently being bullied, and 22 percent of those who reported persistent bullying.

The pattern stayed the same in assessments of mental health, which identified poor mental health by traits including being sad, angry, and afraid.

“I think one key thing to take from this is that any adult that has any contact with children . . . (should) know what the signs of bullying might be,” Bogart said. “This study tells us some of them, but not all of them.”

Bogart says one of the best ways to identify bullying starts with knowing if your child falls into a group at high risk of bullying, including those who are disabled, overweight, or identifying as LGBT.

“I think this says – especially for parents – to be really attuned to what’s going on in their kids’ lives by paying attention, knowing what’s going on during the school day and being aware so they’ll notice changes like these,” she said.

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