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Childhood Bullying Can Affect Mental Health in College

Teenage girl leaning against lockerThe results of a new study published in the journal Social Psychology of Education suggest being bullied in childhood can have a significant impact on mental health in college, especially for females. This finding could be an indication that emotional damage from childhood bullying can last much longer than previously believed.

Childhood bullying and college student mental health are two independently important topics in public health. Bullying can cause mental health issues that persist into adolescence, but evidence for a longer-lasting influence has started to emerge. College student mental health is widely acknowledged as a mental health research priority as service centers are often overtaxed. The possibility that these issues intersect presents both challenges and opportunities for impending studies and approaches to treatment.

Long-Term Effects of Bullying

The investigation included 482 undergraduate students, 65% of whom were female. They completed a packet of surveys and questionnaires for measures related to current mental health along with rates of bullying and other forms of abuse experienced as a child.

An analysis of the findings showed reports of childhood bullying victimization were a significant predictor of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress (PTSD) in college students. Females reported higher rates of these mental health issues in general than males.

The association was even stronger when bullying was paired with reported experiences of other forms of child abuse. Experience of bullying surpassed exposure to community violence as the strongest predictor of PTSD.

Prevention for Containment of Childhood Bullying

Childhood bullying is being researched more often as a contributing factor to mental health issues that persist into adulthood, often requiring the use of mental health services. Another newly released study found an association between bullying victimization and increased use of mental health services (but not necessarily diagnoses) up to age 50. Researchers encourage the continued development of strong prevention and support measures to reduce or contain the issue, especially as cyberbullying becomes more prevalent.

A recent evaluation of Iowa’s anti-bullying legislation, which was enacted in 2007, had mixed results. Some forms of bullying declined, but findings from a study published in the journal Injury Epidemiology showed instances of cyberbullying continue to increase despite the legislation. Nearly half of the 253,000 participating students reported being victimized.


  1. Auerbach, R. P., Alonso, J., Axinn, W. G., Cuijpers, P., Ebert, D. D., Green, J. G., … & Nock, M. K. (2016). Mental disorders among college students in the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys. Psychological Medicine, 1. doi:10.1017/S0033291716001665
  2. Espelage, D. L., Hong, J. S., & Mebane, S. Recollections of childhood bullying and multiple forms of victimization: correlates with psychological functioning among college students. Social Psychology of Education, 1-14. doi:10.1007/s11218-016-9352-z
  3. Evans-Lacko, S., Takizawa, R., Brimblecombe, N., King, D., Knapp, M., Maughan, B., & Arseneault, L. (2016). Childhood bullying victimisation is associated with use of mental health services over 5 decades: a longitudinal nationally-representative cohort study. Psychological Medicine. Retrieved from
  4. Lukits, A. (2016, September 5). Anti-bullying legislation has mixed results. Retrieved from
  5. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2016, September 1). Wounds from childhood bullying may persist into college years, study finds. Retrieved from

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  • Katie

    September 14th, 2016 at 2:29 PM

    In a very weird way college is either that place that will allow you to break free of all of those old beliefs that you have always had about yourself or it will reinforce them even more strongly.
    I would hope that for most of us this is the time to find out our true selves, and sort of break out of those stereotypical roles that most of us find that we have to play while at home with our friends and our parents. I don’t encourage bad behavior but this is definitely the time to try some new things and discover the things that you really do enjoy doing.

  • Cal

    September 14th, 2016 at 6:03 PM

    because most people do not understand that most of this goes far beyond picking on someone on the playground

  • bradley

    September 15th, 2016 at 12:58 PM

    These are things that become so ingrained in us that even though we might know that they are not true, they do somewhat leave you second guessing yourself and thinking that maybe they are right and you are wrong.
    The only people that I want to influence me are my parents because they are the ones who have always been advocates for em and who have helped me to be strong and believe in myself.

  • Millie

    September 19th, 2016 at 2:19 PM

    I still do not understand the appeal of bullying someone, I guess it is just to make someone feel like they are stronger than someone?

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