Bullies take satisfaction from repeatedly hurting other children around the same age while their innocent victims — often it's just one student chosen for abuse — find it difficult to defend themselves. Perhaps it is for this reason that the negative effects of bullying last well into adulthood, as researchers from King’s College London discovered, with health, social, and economic consequences. "Our study shows that the effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later,” said Dr. Ryu Takizawa of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. “The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood."

The British National Child Development Study includes data on all children born in England, Scotland, and Wales during one week in 1958, with the parents of these 7,771 children providing information to researchers. The children have been followed through the age of 50. Among the data collected was each child’s potential exposure to bullying between the ages of 7 and 11.

The researchers found that just over a quarter (28 percent) of the children in the study had been bullied occasionally, while 15 percent had been bullied frequently. Those frequently bullied showed poor mental health, displaying suicidal thoughts, and showing an increased risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

Looking at their general health, the team of scientists surprisingly discovered that people who had been bullied were more likely to be lacking in physical health and even cognitive functioning at age 50. Adults who had once been bullied children were also more likely to have lower educational levels, with men, in particular, more likely to be unemployed and earn less. Compared to others, those once bullied were more likely to be alone and report lower quality of life and life satisfaction. Generally, they lacked social support.

"We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing-up,” said Professor Louise Arseneault of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's. “Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children."

Bullying can happen at any age, though it is possibly most painful in childhood. The most important thing to remember is that it usually occurs without any provocation. Bullies may in some cases be insecure, hurt creatures themselves, but more often they are not. One study found that most bullies had average or better than average self-esteem, while another found that highly aggressive boys were among the most popular and socially connected children in elementary classrooms, as viewed by their fellow students and even their teachers. There’s no excuse, in other words, and those who are bullied should be lent a friendly helpful hand.

Source: Takizawa R, Maughan B, Arseneault L. Adult health outcomes of childhood bullying victimization: Evidence from a 5-decade longitudinal British cohort. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2014.