New Research Finds Link Between Childhood Bullying and Adult Psychiatric Disorders

Recently, professors at Duke University in North Carolina have published research that shows the link from childhood bullying to adult psychiatric disorders. “We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person’s long-term functioning,” said William E. Copeland, PhD, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University and lead author of the study.
Of the 1,420 youth studied, researchers found:

  • 26% (421) reported being bullied at least once.
  • 9.5% (200) acknowledged bullying others.

As adults, those exposed to childhood bullying experience:

  • Higher levels of depressive, anxiety, and panic disorders as well as generalized anxiety and agoraphobia among victims of bullying compared to non bullied youth.
  • Higher levels of all anxiety and depressive disorders among victims and bullies.
  • Highest levels of suicidal thoughts, generalized anxiety, depressive and panic disorders among youth who were both victims and bullies.
  • An increased risk of antisocial personality disorder among bullies.

This research is compiled from more than 20 years of data from The Great Smoky Mountain study, which began in order to determine the development of, need for, and use of mental health services in children and adolescents in an area of the southeastern U.S. The study included 1,420 youth ages nine through 13 in western North Carolina who were interviewed periodically each year until they reached the age of 16. After the youth turned 16, follow-up questions were conducted into adulthood.
Additionally, a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) report found that over 50 percent of students with a mental disorder age 14 and older dropout of high school- the highest dropout rate of any disability group, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 years of age, and in the United States, indirect cost of mental illness is estimated to be $79 billion, most of that amount- approximately $63 billion- reflects the loss of productivity as a result of illnesses.
“This psychological damage doesn’t just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied.” Copeland states. “This is something that stays with them. If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road.”

Avery Klein is a digital and social media intern at Prichard Communications. She is from Springfield, Missouri where she attends Missouri State University and is studying public relations, advertising, and promotions and ethical leadership. She loves traveling, discovering new restaurants, social media, and her two darling dogs.

Updated: June 24 2013