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The Long-Lasting Trauma of Bullying and Importance of Bullying Prevention

It’s estimated that one out of four students in the U.S. is a victim of bullying, with 77 percent of that population admitting to being regularly bullied both verbally and physically. Name-calling, physical violence, and now cyber-bullying, can escalate into mental problems later in adult life and more extreme incidents of violence if left unchecked.

With October being National Bullying Prevention Month, it’s an opportune time to take a look at the psychological effects of bullying, why it’s important to prevent it, and how educators and students can play a role in curbing it. defines bullying as "unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time."

Even though bullying has been a persistent problem for centuries, it’s only in the last few decades that psychologists and educators have begun to look at its lasting psychological impact. Victims of bullying can be singled out by bullies for an infinite number of reasons with the aggressive behavior leaving its mental mark well after school.

William Copeland, an epidemiologist at Duke University, said he was initially skeptical about the long-term effects of bullying but was surprised with what he and his colleagues found in their study of children.

Copeland and his team studied 1,420 children from 11 Western North Carolina counties, who were between nine- and 13-years old. They were interviewed annually about peer relations at home and in school until they were 16-years old. The interviews then picked back up with the now-adults from the ages of 19-26. Four distinct populations emerged from the study: those who were never involved in bullying, victims, bullies, and those who were both bullies and victims. Copeland found that even several years out of school and into adulthood the effects of bullying lingered. “A large number of people express lasting effects decades after their childhood experiences,” said Copeland.

Those who were victims of bullying were found to be four times as likely to suffer from a panic disorder and agoraphobia as adults. “Victims report the greatest anxiety problems,” said Copeland. “They might become successful people later on, but they still think about the event and hold onto it.”

The study’s results also yielded that bullies were more likely to develop an antisocial personality disorder and those who had been both bully and victim were reported to have less-developed social skills. In the long run, this led to higher depression levels and this group also was 10 times more at risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior.

While the psychological damage of bullying can carry over after graduation, there’s no shortage of news stories about bullying getting out of hand and resulting in the death of a student. From reports of bullying victims lashing out with deadly violence towards their aggressors to the national news story of Gabriel Taye, the eight-year-old who hung himself out of distress from bullying -- its deadly impact is far too frequent.

Parents, educators, and students can help to prevent bullying by talking openly about it, discussing issues of cultural diversity, and developing bullying intervention strategies. It’s crucial that both parents and educators learn to spot what bullying behaviors look like and send a strong message that it’s unacceptable behavior that will not be tolerated.

While educators and parents should always take steps to stop bullying when they spot it, stamping out bullying behavior is arguably more effective when it’s called out by the bully’s own peers. Bullies are more likely to refrain from picking on another student if one or more students tell the bully to stop.

Bullying may have been viewed in the past as something that ended with grade school, but research has proven that is not the case. It’s up to both schools and parents to do their part in preventing bullying behavior. “What happens to kids when they’re with their peers is as important, or maybe more important, than what happens at home,” concluded Copeland.

For how to develop an anti-bullying plan and support efforts to curb bullying, check out some of the instructive resources available on the, Anti-Defamation League, and Teaching Tolerance websites.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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