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22-04-2013 | Paediatrics | Article

Psychiatric disorders in young adulthood linked to bullying in childhood


Free abstract

medwireNews: Study findings show that young adolescents who have been bullied have an increased risk for developing a psychiatric disorder as young adults, with the worst effects seen for individuals who are both victims and bullies.

"Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up," say authors William Copeland (Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA) and colleagues.

They add: "Bullying can be easily assessed and monitored by health professionals and school personnel, and effective interventions that reduce victimization are available."

The researchers followed up 1420 young adolescents who had been bullied, were bullies only, or were both bullies and victims (bullies/victims) annually between the ages of 9 and 16 years.

Structured diagnostic interviews performed at 19, 21, and 24-26 years of age among the 1273 remaining participants showed that both victims and bullies/victims had an increased risk for young adult psychiatric disorders compared with those with no history of bullying or being bullied.

After adjusting for childhood psychiatric disorders and family hardships, victims of bullying in childhood had a 4.3-, 3.1-, and 4.6-fold increased risk for developing anxiety disorders, panic disorders, or agoraphobia, respectively.

Adolescents who were bullies/victims had a 4.8-fold increased risk for adult depression and a 14.5-fold higher likelihood for developing panic disorders compared with those with no history of bullying or being bullied. Gender had a significant effect on the risk for certain disorders in this group, with only males showing an increased risk for suicidality (odds ratio [OR]=18.5) and only females having a higher risk for developing agoraphobia (OR=26.7).

Being a bully had the least long-lasting impact into adulthood, being associated with a 4.1-fold increased risk for developing an antisocial personality only.

Previous research found that both bullies and victims of bullying have an increased risk for psychiatric problems in childhood, but the current study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, is the first to indicate that this elevated risk extends into early adulthood, Copeland and colleagues explain.

They say that the observed increased risk even after adjusting for pre-existing psychiatric problems of family hardships "suggests that the effects of victimization by peers on long-term adverse psychiatric outcomes are not confounded by other childhood factors."

"Interventions are likely to reduce human suffering and long-term health costs and provide a safer environment for children to grow up in," they conclude.

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2013

By Ingrid Grasmo, medwireNews Reporter

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