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Childhood bullying and long-term mental health problems

Peer bullying should not be accepted as a normal part of growing up, and children should not be expected to just "get over it". The trauma is so great that children who are bullied leave emotional scars that will stay with them throughout their lives.

Research on the long-term effects of bullying on school-age children has been limited, but the topic has received more attention in recent years. According to recent studies in the US, where around 10 percent of children are frequently bullied, the risk of emotional problems later in life for bullied children is four times greater than for children who experience abuse by adults.

A nationwide study conducted in Finland shows that 20 percent of adults who were bullied in their childhood develop mental health problems severe enough to warrant treatment in their teenage or early adult years, and more than 10 percent will be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder by the time they reach their thirties.

Similar research in the UK suggests that bullied children are 60 percent more likely than adults to develop emotional problems. Adults who were bullied as children are at greater risk of developing disorders such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia, and are also more likely to commit suicide.

Bullied children often struggle with low self-esteem, poor academic performance, and may drop out of school in their teenage years.

Victims of bullying can come into serious conflict with the law later, including frequent brawls and child or partner abuse. While not common, some of them can strike back violently. In most of the school shootings, the shooter had experienced severe bullying as a child.

Substance abuse and addiction are not uncommon in victims of bullying, often severe enough to warrant drug and alcohol addiction and rehab. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia can also require treatment.

Bullying is an abuse and should never be tolerated, but many children are reluctant to tell adults that they are being bullied. They may feel ashamed or fear that if they tell an adult it will get worse.

It is up to parents, schools, and communities to create a safe environment for children, and community-wide bullying prevention programs should be available. Children who experience or testify to bullying should be encouraged to report to a teacher, trainer, counselor, or parent when bullying occurs.