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New Duke Study: Bullying Lasts a Lifetime

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Those who think bullying is something kids "grow out of" may want to think again. A new study from Duke University found that bullying increases the risk of anxiety and depressive disorders for decades after the incidents. The researchers followed more than 1,000 children for up to 20 years and found victims of bullying and the bullies much more likely to wind up with severe problems as adults.
According to the lead author of the study, Dr. William Copeland, an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke, one group was particularly troubled: those who had reacted to being bullied by bullying others themselves.
"The males were at eighteen times higher risk of suicidality, the females were at 26 times higher risk of agoraphobia," the doctor said. "Males and females were at 14 times higher risk of having panic disorder."
Copeland said many of those who had been victims, and had not themselves turned to bullying, are now dealing with depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and that agoraphobic fear of being out in public.
Dr. Rochelle Harris, a child psychologist, said that some parents don't realize how much harm bullying can do to a child, and sometimes their response to that child is not helpful.
"I've heard all kinds of responses from the 'You don't have to take it; go back and punch them,' to the 'Just ignore, pretend it doesn't happen.' Ignoring is a really sophisticated skill that's difficult for everyone, much less a child," Harris declared.
She said bullying is not the victim's fault and that studies have shown that the whole-school approach is what works best.
"Rules about how children treat one another: have them posted all over the place," Harris suggested. "Teachers are trained to look for subtle aspects of bullying and to intervene."
Bullying doesn't only lead to problems for the victims. The study found that bullies who had not been victimized were much more likely to develop antisocial personality disorders as adults and had a high risk of suicide. Both Harris and Copeland recommend early intervention as a way to prevent problems later on in life.
The study appears in the on-line issue of JAMA Psychiatry, and is at: archpsyc.jamanetwork.com.
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