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Adolescence is a time filled with uncertainty and exploration. This stage of life is typically when an individual begins to establish the various components of their identity. One critical aspect of this process is the development of friendships and other peer relationships. Since adolescence has proved to be such a fragile time in an individual’s life, it is reasonable to suggest that the process of forming quality relationships with one’s peers is not always easy. It is not uncommon for an adolescent to find oneself in a bullying situation, and our society has even started to normalize these behaviors as “a part of growing up.” Adolescence is already an incredibly difficult stage of life, and bullying does not make it any easier. Furthermore, it is reasonable to question whether those involved in bullying situations during adolescence suffer the consequences of these experiences throughout their life, since they may have harmed their capacity to establish quality relationships with their peers. The following paper examines adolescent bullying experiences and their short, and long, term impacts on mental health outcomes. My hypothesis is that those involved in bullying situations during adolescence will experience more adverse mental health outcomes, as well as an overall negative perception of their quality of life, both immediately and later in life, than their peers who are not. The research studies in this paper attempt to strengthen the claim of this hypothesis.
In a study conducted at the University of Virginia, over 3500 high school students in Virginia were divided into different categories of bullying situations to help understand the various adverse outcomes that happen as a result of bullying. Researchers divided the participants into four classes based on their personal experiences: non-involved (65%), bullies (12%), victims (16%), and bully-victims (8%). The study found that externalizing behaviors such as aggression, defiance, vandalism, and stealing were more common among the bully and bully-victim categories. On the other hand, internalizing behaviors such as anxiety, depression, and withdrawal were more common among the victim and bully-victim classes (Lovegrove, 2014). These results indicate that all parties involved in bullying situations may experience adverse mental health outcomes, and the role one has in the bullying experience is related to whether or not the results are internal or external behavioral issues.
A study conducted in the U.K. wanted to examine the association between bullying experiences and short and long-term impacts on anxiety and depression. The study used 5030 secondary school students in the U.K. ranging from age 11-16. The students were asked to self-report their victimization experiences and anxiety and depression symptoms at three different time points within a year. The study found that adolescent bullying experiences were related to both immediate and delayed rises in anxiety and depression levels (Stapinski, 2014). These results shed light on the notion that exposure to bullying creates concurrent anxiety and depressive symptoms, but that these symptoms do not necessarily go away once the bullying situation has blown over. These short and long term effects of bullying on anxiety and depression highlight the need for early intervention to help prevent these adverse mental health trajectories from reaching their full potential.
In a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers explored the long-term impacts of being bullied in adolescence. Participants were 7,771 individuals who were part of the British National Child Development Study, a 50-year cohort study that has monitored participants from birth to adulthood. The subjects that made up this particular study were those whose parents reported that their child was involved in a bullying experience during adolescence. The participants were followed up with between the ages of 23 and 50 and evaluated for a variety of outcomes including suicide ideation, depression, anxiety, alcohol dependence, psychological distress, socioeconomic status, social relationships quality, and overall health and wellbeing. The study found that individuals exposed to bullying during adolescence experienced heightened psychological distress at various points in their adult life, as well as higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. Additional findings suggested that bullying victims lacked quality social relationships, experienced economic struggles, and had an overall poor perception of their quality of life throughout adulthood (Takizawa, 2014). These findings highlight the long-term impacts of adolescent bullying experiences on a vast array of life outcomes throughout the life course. Those who are victims of bullying early on are more prone to have a reduced quality of life and suffer a wide variety of adverse mental health outcomes and other hardships.
The Great Smoky Mountain Study examined how being involved in bullying situations, in any role, during adolescence contributed to a broad range of adverse outcomes in adulthood. The study used three cohorts of participants who were age 9, 11, and 13 at the beginning of data collection. This study also used different classifications of bully roles within the given situations such as bully, victim, bully-victim, or not involved. The participants and an adult caregiver were surveyed each year from age 9-16. At each intake, the participants were asked to evaluate whether or not they had been bullied, or bullied someone within the past three months. The participants were then followed-up with at ages 19, 21, and 25. At these intakes, researchers interviewed the subjects about their health, engagement in risky behaviors, wealth, and social relationships. Police reports were also obtained to verify the validity of the participant’s descriptions of their engagement in risky behaviors. After controlling for any adverse childhood experiences or psychiatric disorders, the study found that those who were involved in bullying situations during childhood in any role experienced more adverse health and wealth outcomes, engaged in more risky behaviors, and had more social problems (Wolke, 2013). These results indicate that adolescent bullying experiences do have the potential to compromise a wide variety of aspects of an individual’s life into adulthood. Both perpetrators and victims of bullying in adolescence are at risk of experiencing a lesser quality of life on a long-term basis.
A study published in the Journal of School Health aimed to establish a relationship between middle school bullying experiences and suicide ideation and plans. The study used a behavior survey from the US Center for Disease Control to conduct two cross-sectional studies among 1082 middle school students in a rural community of Ohio. 43 percent of these students reported that they were bullied in school, and roughly 35% percent conveyed that they had thought about or seriously planned to commit suicide in the past (Bhata, 2014). These results indicate a strong association between being bullied in middle school and thoughts and suicide ideation. Since middle school marks the start of adolescence, preventative measures should be taken in schools to reduce the risk of suicide ideation in adolescence.
Overall, bullying experiences in adolescence are related to a wide variety of adverse outcomes on both a short and long-term basis. Findings consistently suggest that victims of bullying are more likely to exhibit internalizing behaviors such as depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation, but are more inconsistent about whether or not victims also exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression, and as well as other risk-taking behaviors. Perpetrators of bullying are also prone to exhibiting more externalizing and risky behaviors both immediately and long-term, but the findings for bullies seems to be more inconsistent than the literature on bully victims. Distinguishing between the various roles of a bullying experience does appear to impact the type of issues an individual may experience, yet the overall quality of life of people involved in bullying experiences during adolescence is consistently reported to be lower than those who do not have bullying exposure. Not only does bullying impact mental health, but also the quality of social relationships, future socioeconomic status, criminal history, and substance misuse. Adolescence is a fragile period of an individual’s life, and exposure to bullying may put one at an increased risk for mental health problems and other negative life experiences. Further research on this topic should focus on how to help adolescents from experiencing such adverse outcomes both short and long-term. It is important to recognize the detrimental effects of bullying to guide further intervention plans to help prevent these adverse outcomes from occurring early on. The greater the action is taken to avoid these bullying situations from happening, the more likely it is that an individual will have more positive development during adolescence, and throughout the rest of their lives.
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