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Bullying Prevention

A new study from Duke University found that bullying increases the risk of anxiety and depressive disorders for decades after the incidents. Researchers found that victims of bullying, and the bullies themselves, were much more likely to wind up with severe problems as adults.

William Copeland, the study’s author, says one group was particularly troubled — those who had reacted to being bullied by then becoming bullies. “The males were at 18 times higher risk of suicidality,” he says. “The females were at 26 times higher risk of agoraphobia. Males and females were at 14 times higher risk of having panic disorder.”

Copeland says many of those who had been victims and had not turned to bullying, are now dealing with depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and that agoraphobic fear of being out in public.

Child psychologist Rochelle Harris says some parents don’t realize how much harm bullying can do to a child, and sometimes their response to that child is not helpful. “I've heard all kinds of responses,” she says, “from the ‘you don't have to take it go back and punch them’, to the ‘just ignore, pretend it doesn’t happen.’ Ignoring is a really sophisticated skill that’s difficult for everyone, much less a child.”

Both Harris and Copeland recommend early intervention as a way to prevent problems later on in life.

The study appears in the online issue of JAMA Psychiatry.

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