The negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are still evident nearly 40 years later, according to new research by King's College London. The study is the first to look at the effects of bullying beyond early adulthood, and is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
The findings come from the British National Child Development Study which includes data on all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during one week in 1958. The study published today includes 7,771 children whose parents provided information on their child's exposure to bullying when they were aged 7 and 11. The children were then followed up until the age of 50.
Dr Ryu Takizawa, lead author of the paper from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, says: "Our study shows that the effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later. The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood."
Just over a quarter of children in the study (28%) had been bullied occasionally, and 15% bullied frequently – similar to rates in the UK today.
Individuals who were bullied in childhood were more likely to have poorer physical and psychological health and cognitive functioning at age 50. Individuals who were frequently bullied in childhood were at an increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts.
Individuals who were bullied in childhood were also more likely to have lower educational levels, with men who were bullied more likely to be unemployed and earn less. Social relationships and well-being were also affected. Individuals who had been bullied were less likely to be in a relationship, to have good social support, and were more likely to report lower quality of life and life satisfaction.
Professor Louise Arseneault, senior author, also from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's adds: "We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing-up. Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children. Programmes to stop bullying are extremely important, but we also need to focus our efforts on early intervention to prevent potential problems persisting into adolescence and adulthood."
Bullying is characterized by repeated hurtful actions by children of a similar age, where the victim finds it difficult to defend themselves. The harmful effect of bullying remained even when other factors including childhood IQ, emotional and behavioural problems, parents' socioeconomic status and low parental involvement, were taken into account.
Professor Arseneault adds: "40 years is a long time, so there will no doubt be additional experiences during the course of these young people's lives which may either protect them against the effects of bullying, or make things worse. Our next step is to investigate what these are."
The study was funded by the British Academy and the Royal Society.
For a copy of the paper, or interviews with the author, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London firstname.lastname@example.org / (+44) 0207 848 5377 / (+44) 07718 697 176
Paper reference: Takizawa R, Maughan B, Arseneault L. "Adult health outcomes of childhood bullying victimization: Evidence from a 5-decade longitudinal British cohort" will be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry
About the National Child Development Study:
The National Child Development Study (NCDS) follows the lives of 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1958. Also known as the 1958 Birth Cohort Study, it collects information on physical and educational development, economic circumstances, employment, family life, health behaviour, wellbeing, social participation and attitudes. The NCDS is run by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, an Economic and Social Research Council resource centre based at the Institute of Education, University of London. http://www.cls.ioe.ac.uk/page.aspx?&sitesectionid=724&sitesectiontitle=Welcome+to+the+1958+National+Child+Development+Study
About King's College London:
King's College London is one of the top 20 universities in the world (2013/14 QS World University Rankings) and the fourth oldest in England. It is The Sunday Times 'Best University for Graduate Employment 2012/13'. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has more than 25,000 students (of whom more than 10,000 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and more than 6,500 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £554 million.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar.
King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: http://www.kingshealthpartners.org.
The College is in the midst of a five-year, £500 million fundraising campaign – World questions|King's answers – created to address some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity as quickly as feasible. The campaign's five priority areas are neuroscience and mental health, leadership and society, cancer, global power and children's health. More information about the campaign is available at http://www.kcl.ac.uk/kingsanswers.
American Journal of Psychiatry