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Bullying Really Does Mess You Up Later in Life

A recent study linked bullying during childhood to higher instances of psychological disorders

First, watch this and try not to get choked up.

Okay, regroup. You might think to yourself: okay, this guy was bullied, but he’s clearly okay. He made this amazing animation about it. Bullying is terrible at the time, but what harm does it really do? Well, it turns out that bullying actually can have serious consequences into adulthood. A recent study linked bullying during childhood to higher instances of psychological disorders.

The study is remarkable because it’s been conducted over twenty years—following kids starting at ages 9, 11 and 13. They asked them about their lives and habits and separated the subjects into three general groups: bullies, victims of bullies and kids who were both bullies and victimes. These were the kids that had the hardest time later on. Slate reports:

The third group is known as bully-victims. These are the people who tend to have the most serious psychological problems as kids, and in the Duke study, they also showed up with higher levels of anxiety, depressive disorders, and suicidal thinking as adults. The people who had only experienced being victims were also at heightened risk for depression and anxiety. And the bullies were more likely to have an antisocial personality disorder.

Which makes bullying not just a bad thing for kids at the time, but a bad thing for everybody always. The bullying problem is a well known one. The U.S. government has an initative to get a handle on bullying. From Stopbullying.gov:

Bullying can affect everyone—those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide. It is important to talk to kids to determine whether bullying—or something else—is a concern.

Students act out a bullying exercise. Image: Twentyfour Students

At Slate, Emily Bazelon talked to William E. Copeland, the lead author of the study, and shares a few reasons why bullying can have these long term effects:

Why does bullying have such far-reaching impact? Copeland and his team suggest the experience may change kids’ physiological response to stress, and their ability to cope. This looked especially stark for the bully-victims. “It was definitely the case that chronic bullying led to worse outcomes, but much more the case that being a bully-victim was associated with really significant problems,” Copeland said. The biggest cry for help is coming from that group. Fortunately, it’s a smaller number than victims overall.” Bully-victims, Copeland and others have found, have more problems at home and the most trouble with impulse control and aggression. Sometimes they do the dirty work for popular kids who bully to curry favor with them. “I don’t think things are working out socially for them in a lot of ways,” Copeland said.

So while the pork chop story might sound funny and cute, it could have really impacted Shane Koyczan in some serious ways.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Too Popular to Bother With Bullying

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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