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"Bully Victims" Six TImes More LIkely to Suffer Serious Illness, Study

Update Date: Aug 19, 2013 11:06 AM EDT

New research reveals more evidence that scars of childhood bullying lasts long into adulthood.

People exposed to bullying in childhood are significantly more likely to suffer serious illness, form poor social relationships and struggle to hold down regular jobs. 

Researchers said the latest findings underscore the extent to which the risk of problems related to health, poverty, and social relationships are heightened by exposure to bullying.

"We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless, almost inevitable, part of growing up," researcher Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick said in a statement. "We need to change this mindset and acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole; the effects are long-lasting and significant."

Wolke and William E. Copeland of Duke University Medical Center examined the victims, the bullies and individuals who fall into both so-called "bully-victims".  The study involved 1,420 children.  The participants were assessed four to six times between the ages of nine and 16 and again between the ages of 24 and 26.

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, reveal that 'bully-victims,' who researchers say may turn to bullying after being bullied themselves, may be the most vulnerable group.

Researchers found that 'bully-victims' were most at risk for health problems in adulthood.  The study revealed that 'bully-victims' were over six times more likely to be diagnosed with serious illness, smoke regularly, or develop a psychiatric disorder compared to those not involved in bullying.

Wolke said that victims might become bullies because they may not have the emotional regulation or support required to cope with it.

"In the case of bully-victims, it shows how bullying can spread when left untreated," Wolke said. "Some interventions are already available in schools but new tools are needed to help health professionals to identify, monitor, and deal with the ill-effects of bullying. The challenge we face now is committing the time and resources to these interventions to try and put an end to bullying."

The study found that bullies, victims and 'bully-victims' were all more than twice as likely to struggle in keeping a job or committing to saving compared to those not involved in bullying. Because of this, they show a higher propensity for being impoverished in young adulthood.

However, the latest study found few adverse effects of being the bully. After adjusting for the influence of childhood psychiatric problems and family hardships, which were prevalent among bullies, researchers found the act of bullying itself didn't seem to have a negative impact in adulthood.

"Bullies appear to be children with a prevailing antisocial tendency who know how to get under the skin of others, with bully-victims taking the role of their helpers," explained Wolke. "It is important to finds ways of removing the need for these children to bully others and, in doing so, protect the many children suffering at the hand of bullies - they are the ones who are hindered later in life."

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