Being Bullied Is Bad For Your Health
May 13, 2014

Being Bullied Is Bad For Your Health

Were you ever bullied when you were younger? I was. More in grade school and junior high than in high school, as by that time I had become a pretty big guy who knew how to handle himself in a fight. Most of the time, the bullying I experienced was things like name-calling, being pushed around, mocked, and made to feel useless, but it got violent often enough for me to have a few lasting scars from it. I always dreaded recess, especially after lunch, as that would be when the bullies would really have a go at me. I grew up in a small farming town that most people would likely look at as being pretty safe. It did not feel that way to me in school though.

Oh well, what is done is done, and that part of my life is over and has been for quite some time. I should not have to worry about having been bullied any more, right? Wrong.

A recent collaborative study between the Duke University School of Medicine, the University of Warwick, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Emory University has connected being bullied not only with various social and emotional conditions such as anxiety and depression, but also with health problems such as chronic, systemic inflammation that persists on into adulthood. Led by William E. Copeland, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences as Duke University School of Medicine, this study looked at data gathered from the Great Smoky Mountains Study – a population-based study that has been gathering information on 1,420 individuals for more than 20 years – and selected random participants from that study to participate in their study on the long-term effects of bullying. The participants were interviewed throughout their childhoods, adolescence, and through young adulthood and, among other various topics, were asked about bullying and their own personal experiences with it. Researchers also collected blood samples to measure C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a marker of low-grade inflammation as well as a risk factor for other health problems such as metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

According to Copeland, “CRP levels are affected by a variety of stressors, including poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and infection, but we’ve found that they are also related to psychosocial factors. By controlling for participants’ pre-existing CRP levels, even before involvement in bullying, we get a clearer understanding of how bullying could change the trajectory of CRP levels.”

Among the participants, three groups were analyzed: those who were victims of bullying, those who were both the victims and also bullies themselves, and those who were just bullies. What the research team found was, though CRP levels rose for all three groups as they entered adulthood, victims of bullying had much higher CRP levels as adults than any other group. Those who were both victims of bullying and bullies themselves had CRP levels similar to those who were not involved with bullies at all, and bullies had the lowest levels of CRP even when compared to people who were uninvolved with bullies.

Of late, bullying has become recognized as a serious problem in schools all across the nation, and while I am one who feels that it is good for kids to learn to deal with their own problems, the severity of bullying has likewise grown with it, making it something that should be dealt with on as many fronts as possible. Kids should not have to live in fear. They should not be afraid to play or to be themselves. Kids should be kids. This study only shows us another way in which bullying is detrimental to the well being of these kids who will one day be our future. While there is no clear and easy answer for what we should do, it is increasingly clear that we need to do something.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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