Both Bully and Victim Suffer Later in Life
> 8/8/2007 1:43:50 PM

"Give me your lunch money; I’ll need it to pay for therapy later."

Bullies have always stalked school hallways, but only recently are officials and parents realizing how harmful it can be for the well-being of both victim and aggressor. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration now clearly warns that bullying is abuse and not "just a part of growing up."

A study published in Pediatrics this week established the extent to which bullying in childhood could predict mental problems in adulthood. The study collected bullying figures by interviewing teachers and 8-year-old students, and then took advantage of compulsory military testing in Finland to see how victims and bullies turned out. As expected, victims of frequent bullying were much more likely to develop anxiety disorder. Even more interesting was the finding that bullies developed problems too—they had a higher chance of being diagnosed by the military with antisocial personality, depression, and substance abuse. The worst off were those who filled both the victim and the bully role, suffering attacks from those stronger than them and then lashing out at more vulnerable children. These victim/bullies are in danger of developing both antisocial personality and anxiety disorder. The researchers claim that knowledge of bullying history can predict 28% of psychiatric disorders a decade later.

The correlation between bullying and mental illness does not necessarily mean that bullying is the cause of problems. It is possible that bullying is a symptom of pathological disregard for others, and that victims are singled out because they already show signs of anxiety that are interpreted as weakness. To try and rule out that possibility, the researches gathered reports on any symptoms that children exhibited that might indicate the presence of pre-existing mental problems. In addition, they corrected for some socio-economic factors like parents' education level to make sure that common factors were not causing the correlation.

The Finnish study does not conclusively show that bullying causes future problems, but it certainly proves that bullying numbers can be used to make predictions. This will allow early prevention of illness and careful monitoring of children at greatest risk. With studies in the United States finding that around 30% of middle-school students are involved in bullying with substantial frequency, we should appreciate any new tools for examining the phenomenon.

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