File this under "not surprised." But just because a recent study about the effects of bullying on its victims is no surprise, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
According to the study, which was conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital, the longer the period of time a child is bullied, the more severe and lasting the impact on a child’s health.
The study was published online Feb. 17 in Pediatrics and is the first to examine the compounding effects of bullying from elementary school to high school.
"Our research shows that long-term bullying has a severe impact on a child’s overall health, and that its negative effects can accumulate and get worse with time," stated the study’s first author Laura Bogart, PhD, from Boston Children’s Division of General Pediatrics. "It reinforces the notion that more bullying intervention is needed, because the sooner we stop a child from being bullied, the less likely bullying is to have a lasting, damaging effect on his or her health down the road."
Bogart and the team collected data for the study by following a group of 4,297 children and adolescents from fifth to tenth grade. The researchers periodically interviewed them about their mental and physical health and their experiences with bullying.
The researchers found that bullying at any age was associated with worse mental and physical health, increased depressive symptoms and lower self-worth. Participants who experienced chronic bullying also reported increased difficulties in physical activities like walking, running or participating in sports.
Even if the bullying is no longer occurring, the authors noted, a victim might need ongoing care to address the persistent effects.
"I think this is overwhelming support for early interventions and immediate interventions and really advancing the science about interventions," Bogart told Reuters Health.
While previous studies were more concerned with the immediate impacts of bullying, this new study looked at how bullying affects a person over the years.
The authors analyzed data from the Healthy Passages study, which surveyed 4,297 students in fifth, seventh and 10th grades in Alabama, California and Texas. The researchers found that about a third of the students had been regularly bullied at some point during the course of the study.
While those who had been bullied in the past but were no longer experiencing it fared better than those being currently bullying, the study found the effects of bullying linger long. Bogart stated poor mental health includes traits such as being sad, afraid and angry and poor physical health included limitations like not being able to walk far and not being able to pick up heavy objects.
Being aware of the mental and physical traits associated with bullying might help adults identify victims and get them the help they need to survive and thrive, stated Bogart. She also noted that parents and other adults should be aware of the groups that are at high risk for bullying, which include children with physical disabilities, those who are overweight and obese and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning.
"I think this says -- especially for parents -- to be really attuned to what’s going on in their kids’ lives by paying attention, knowing what’s going on during the school day and being aware so they’ll notice changes like these," Bogart told Reuters Health. "The sooner we stop a child from being bullied, the less likely bullying is to have a lasting, damaging effect on his or her health down the road."
A 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science suggested victims of childhood bullying fare poorly in adulthood. Findings from the study showed that individuals bullied in childhood were more likely to have a psychiatric disorder, smoke, struggle to keep work and had difficulty maintaining friendships.
Locally, schools are doing whatever they can to stop bullying and help kids who have been bullied and address the issues that turn kids into bullies.
At Bellows Falls Middle School, school administrators are now using Blackboard Connect’s TIPTxt service, which allows students and parents to report bullying and harassment via text messages.
"By integrating technology into our school-wide continuum of behavior, we are expanding our outreach and efficacy," said BFMS Principal Heidi Lucas-Moccia, who noted many of today’s students feel more comfortable using a digital device than having a face-to-face conversation.
"We hope that students who are concerned about approaching a school administrator with a report, can instead use their phones to inform us about an incident," she said.
Of course, school administrators are not relying solely on texting to deal with bullying. TIPTxt adds to the school’s bullying prevention programs, which include bully reporting boxes, school counselors dedicated to working with the student population on bullying prevention and a student-led group called "No Bystanders," which creates different activities that help students stand up to bullies.
Steve Perrin, the principal at Brattleboro Union High School, said he hopes BUHS has created an atmosphere where a bullied student is not afraid to ask for help from an adult. He said morphing a school’s overall environment and climate into a more accepting and transparent one helps to reduce the level of bullying.
In Hinsdale, N.H., Superintendent Dr. David Crisafulli, said having a small-town atmosphere makes it easier for teachers and administrators to recognize bullying and respond effectively. In addition, the Hinsdale School District has a school resource officer, former Police Chief Wayne Gallagher, who is well known and liked by the students at the school.
"There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to addressing bullying," Bogart stated. "But providing teachers, parents and clinicians with best-practices that are evidence-based could better assist those at the frontlines helping children cope with this serious problem and lessen the damage it causes."
It’s up to all of us -- parents, teachers, administrators, neighbors, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles -- to stop the bullying. Though those affected by bullying might not come to us for help, the signs are usually evident. We just need to take the time to show we care and figure out a way to help. And this is not only about the victims. Often times the bully has been or is being bullied as well. Both the victim and the tormentor need help, and we must all be responsible for their well being.
~ Brattleboro Reformer