Bullying, defined as repeated, negative behaviors by one or more people against another involving a real or perceived imbalance of power, has many consequences beyond immediate fear and discomfort for victims. Studies have shown that those who are bullied can suffer the effects of this malaise long into their adulthood.
A recent study has revealed that those who are bullied as children have higher levels of C-reactive Protein (or CRP), a marker of inflammation (which is, in turn, a risk factor for heart disease and other illnesses). Interestingly, the same study shows that those who engage in bullying behavior had the lowest CRP levels among all participants of the study, suggesting that there are no long-term negative effects associated with indulging in this harmful behavior, at least in so far as heart health is concerned. Research has also shown that victims of bullying may experience social and emotional problems. They also tend to experience more physical problems, including:
- Stress-induced headaches: Tension can build up in the forehead and the back of the head and neck. Worry resulting from headaches can further increase levels, leading to a cycle of pain and worry.
- Muscle pain: Stress leads to the contraction of muscles, causing altered blood flow and metabolic changes within muscle cells.
- Digestive upset: High stress intensified intestinal sensitivity and can also cause constipation and bloating. It can also worsen symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
- Weight fluctuations: When children are bullied, the result is an excess production of the hormone, cortisol. When present at high levels for prolonged periods of time, it can cause everything from Type II diabetes to obesity, increasing fat storage and appetite and leading many victims to turn to food for comfort.
- Altered immunity: Constant exposure to stress alters white blood cell function, causing the immunity to weaken and leading to greater susceptibility to colds and infections. A compromised immune system can also increase the risk of developing autoimmune conditions and can worsen symptoms of allergy.
Some of the long-term psychological consequences of bullying can include an increased risk of developing anxiety disorders and depression. Recent research from the University of Warwick suggests that children who have been bullied by others suffer even more in the long-term than those who have been maltreated by adults. The research involved the study of data obtained by over 4,000 participants from one study, and some 1,273 participants from a second study. The researchers found that mental health outcomes were worse for those who had been bullied. These children were more likely to have anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies.
It is vital that bullying be nipped in the bud, to ensure that children are protected against future physical and mental illness. If your child is a victim, make sure to speak to their school to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to end the problem behavior immediately. Additionally, seek therapy and medical treatment for your child may help battle some of the long-term consequences mentioned above.
KM, Physical Effects of Bullying, accessed May, 2015.
Livescience.com, Bullying and Health: Bad for Victims, Good for Bullies?, accessed May, 2015.