Childhood bullying, the bane of many an LGBT youth’s existence, has social, physical, and mental health effects that are still evident in survivors 40 years later, according to major new research findings from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.
The data comes from the British National Child Development Study, which follows all children born in England, Scotland, and Wales during one week in 1958. The new findings, published online Friday by the American Journal of Psychiatry, covers 7,771 children whose parents provided information on their child’s exposure to bullying when they were aged 7 and 11. The children were then followed up on until the age of 50.
In childhood, 28 percent of children in the study had been bullied occasionally, and 15 percent bullied frequently — rates similar to those seen in the U.K. today. Compared to peers who had not been bullied, those who’d been bullied in childhood were more likely to have poor physical and psychological health, lower educational levels, higher levels of unemployment, and less general satisfaction with life. They often lacked a social support system. Those who’d been bullied frequently had increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts.
“We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing up,” said senior author Louise Arsenault, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, in a press release. “Teachers, parents, and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children. Programs to stop bullying are extremely important, but we also need to focus our efforts on early intervention to prevent potential problems persisting into adolescence and adulthood.”
The study did not look specifically at bullying of children perceived to be LGBT, but much research has documented that young people in this group are often bullied. Some conservative politicians and activists have objected to antibullying programs on religious grounds, saying such efforts would keep students from expressing faith-based condemnations of homosexuality. Last month Tennessee legislators passed a bill that purports to protect religious expression in public schools; critics say it would actually give students a “license to bully” in the name of religion. Gov. Bill Haslam has yet to either sign or veto it.