New Research Suggests Effects of Bullying Last for Decades

Teenagers bullying boy at schoolThe list of children or adolescents who commit suicide after extensive bullying grows longer each year, and a recent study suggests that children who experience bullying are twice as likely to attempt suicide or develop a suicide plan. The bad news is seemingly unending when it comes to bullying, and a new study shows that the effects of mistreatment can last for decades.

The Long-Lasting Effects of Bullying

Researchers used data from the U.K.’s National Child Development Study to examine the lives of more than 18,000 people. Twenty-eight percent of the children followed by the study had experienced some bullying, with 15% experiencing more frequent bullying. The children followed in the study completed additional questionnaires at ages 23 and 50, and answered several questions about mental health and emotional distress.

People who are bullied generally experience emotional distress. Even though the 50-year-old study participants hadn’t experienced bullying in decades, they continued to experience higher rates of emotional distress and mental health issues than their unbullied peers. The researchers who commissioned the study argue that it shows the effects of bullying can last an entire lifetime.

Bullying Prevention Efforts

A few decades ago, bullying was par for the course of being a child, and teachers might look the other way. Schools increasingly recognize the risks posed by bullying, and many schools have implemented specific anti-bullying policies. Oftentimes schools have a zero-tolerance policy, which results in suspension and other harsh penalties for children caught bullying. According to a 2008 report by the American Psychological Association, though, zero tolerance not only doesn’t work; it may actually worsen a school’s bullying problem.

This doesn’t mean that bullying prevention programs accomplish nothing, though. Several other measures may be effective. Programs that encourage the development of empathy, for example, can encourage students to report bullying when they see it and to avoid becoming bullies.

A school culture that embraces tolerance and diversity can be powerful inoculation against bullying, and clear reporting and intervention policies—including policies for how teachers and administrators should respond to reports of bullying—can help students feel safer telling adults about bullying they witness or experience.

Bullying could be one ingredient in the recipe for mental health concerns, and as long as bullying exists, some people will experience mental health challenges that they might otherwise not have to grapple with. When children can turn to adults they trust, though, they’re less likely to resort to harming themselves. Parents, teachers, and other adults can be powerful players in the fight against bullying by reaching out to children and modeling an interaction style that never embraces bullying.


  1. Are zero tolerance policies effective in the schools? [PDF]. (2008, December). American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force.
  2. Beck, J. (2014, April 23). Study: Bullied kids at risk for mental health problems 40 years later. Retrieved from
  3. Prevention at school. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  4. Seaman, A. M. (2014, March 10). Bullying among kids tied to suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts. Retrieved from

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  • Chuck

    May 8th, 2014 at 3:44 AM

    So true

    I still remember the mean and hurtful things that were said to me throughout elementary and middle school and even though I am far removed in years from those very words and actions, there are times when I still think about them and they make me wat to cry. I know that I am better than how they always treated me, for what reasons I don’t know, but that still does not take away the hurt and the shame that I was once forced to deal with. It is funny how the words of 10 and 12 years olds can still haunt you and taunt you even into your 40s, funny sad, not funny haha

  • carlton

    May 8th, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    I don’t know, I kind of tend to think that the things that happened to me as a kid growing up might have made me a little stronger and better able to stand up to others as I have gotten older. Sure they hurt as a kid, but I am glad that it happened, showed me the true colors of people before I got too old and too trusting.

  • serene

    May 9th, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    I am wondering where this attitude that bullying is okay in our society comes from. Is it all about being the big man on campus? And should we have to deal with those ramifications of having to take that behavior forever? I hate to think back on the people that we were in school and then look at the people that we are now and know that many of us are still being harmed by the things that were done to us by some earlier versions of ourselves.

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