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Bullying in Childhood Associated with Depression, Anxiety Later in Life

Update Date: Feb 21, 2013 06:48 AM EST

The effects of being bullied at a young age don't fade away with time; rather they stay with the person for life. According to a new study, bullied children grow up with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

The study was conducted by researchers from Duke Medicine who examined data from a group of participants who were enrolled in a study for more than 20 years.

"We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person's long-term functioning. This psychological damage doesn't just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied. This is something that stays with them. If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road," said William E. Copeland, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University and lead author of the study.

Data for the study came from the Great Smoky Mountain Study that had more than 1,400 children of ages 9, 11 and 13 from North Carolina.

In the study group, about 26 percent said they were bullied, while more than 9 percent had bullied others. Both boys and girls reported bullying at the same rate.

Study results showed that children who were bullied were at a higher risk of developing mental problems than children who had never had such an experience. Bullied children had higher levels of depression, anxiety disorders, panic disorder and agoraphobia - fear of crowds, bridges or being outside.

Previous research has shown that bullying can increase the risk of post traumatic stress disorder in children. About 43 percent of middle-school children have been involved in acts of bullying (victims or aggressors), according to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Bullying is potentially a problem for bullies as well as for victims. Bullying, which we tend to think of as a normal and not terribly important part of childhood, turns out to have the potential for very serious consequences for children, adolescents and adults," said E. Jane Costello, Ph.D., associate director of research at Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy and senior author of the study, according to a press release.

The study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. 

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