Long term efects of being bullied

Stephen Adams, Medical Correspondent at the Telegraph UK, discusses a paper in PLoS One on the long term effects of being bullied. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a link directly to the study.

Researchers have discovered that teenagers who are ostracised at school are more likely to be at risk of developing heart disease and diabetes when they enter middle age.

They are more likely to be obese, have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as being at greater risk of developing diabetes by their early 40s.

The study was conducted by researchers in Sweden and followed 900 people from the ages 16 to 43.

The academics, from the universities of Umea and Stockholm, found those who had the worst time at school socially – being bullied, cast out or isolating themselves – tended to be at the highest risk of poor health by their early 40s.

However, they noted that it was not only those at “the extreme end of the spectrum”, such as “those exposed to bullying or victimisation” that tended to have worse health in middle age.

They wrote: “Our results support the notion that aspects of peer relationships are not only related to future health in the extreme end of the spectrum, e.g. restricted to those exposed to bullying or peer victimization, but that one’s difficulties with peers are represented by a health gradient in adulthood.”

One of the unusual findings was that the effects are worse for females than they are for males, and the researchers were unable to determine the cause from this study.

Cassie Murdoch at Jezebel.com has more details.

They found overall that those who had a harder time socially in school—being bullied, left out, or even choosing to be isolated—had the highest risk of suffering from poor health by the time they were in their early 40s. They were more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol—in other words, metabolic syndrome. These effects were still seen even after their health at 16, their socioeconomic status, and other confounding factors were accounted for.

The correlation between the experiences of teens and later life health outcomes is along a gradient where the outcomes are directly related to the amount of bullying and isolation early in life. It is commonly accepted that bullying can result in self-harm and depression in adolescents.  This has been verified by worldwide studies. Here are just three from the UK, USA, and Turkey.

There really is no question that bullying can have an extremely negative effect on the lives of victims. Both mental and physical health are directly impacted, especially in girls. This is why schools must develop anti-bullying programs and follow through with students who are perpetrators and victims.

Legally, we are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, or sexual orientation. However, our laws around free speech allow the most vile things to be written and said to and about any individual. I fully support those free speech laws, so the answer must be in education rather than restrictions.

As adults, we must set a better example and not support racist and sexist groups and language.  Take a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups in the US.

They point out that the number of such groups has increased since 2000 with an especially steep growth since Obama’s election in 2008. Of course, these groups do not exist in a vacuum.

This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities and spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive.

Bullying does not need racism or sexism, it exists because people with a tendency towards bullying find someone who has the potential to become a victim. What we certainly don’t need is the so-called adults in our society giving them justifications for their actions.

There are a number of resources to help victims and others, here are just two.

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