Adult Outcomes of Being Bullied in School

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

This episode focuses on adult psychiatric outcomes of students who were bullies or victims during their school years.

We are featuring a journal article this week titled Adult psychiatric outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence. The authors wanted to see if bullying or being bullied in school translated to having psychiatric problems as young adults. They used data from close to 1300 children who were followed into young adulthood from the Great Smoky Mountain Study.

The authors found that children who were victims of bullying and those who were both a bully and a victim or bully-victims were more at-risk for developing psychiatric disorders as young adults than those who were bullies or were not involved in bullying. More specifically, bully-victims had the worse outcomes in young adulthood as they had the highest level of risk for a variety of anxiety and depressive disorders compared to their peers. They also had the highest levels of suicidality.

Childhood victims of bullying were found in adulthood to have higher levels of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia though lower levels than those found in bully-victims. Bullies were at increased risk for antisocial personality disorder in young adulthood.

The authors went one step further in their analysis in the hopes of finding out whether childhood psychiatric disorders and family hardships could be the underlying issue for the development of psychiatric disorders in young adulthood rather than being bully-victims or victims of bullying. After removing the influence of childhood psychiatric disorders and family hardship, the authors found that bullying could still account for most of the risk in young adulthood for bully-victims while the bullying still accounted for the risk of anxiety disorders in victims but not depressive disorders.

The takeaway is that bullying victimization continues to have a negative impact on a child all the way into young adulthood. Schools efforts to minimize bullying and create an inviting school environment remains of utmost importance. Schools should also create a method of tracking those children who have been victimized so supports can remain in place throughout their schooling in order to minimize the long-term impact.

That concludes this webcast of the School Mental Health Minute. Come back next week and thanks for watching.


Copeland, W.E., Wolke, D., Angold, A., & Costello, E.J. (2013). Adult psychiatric outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry, E1-E8.


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