Finnish researchers have recently discovered that bullying could result in serious mental disorders — mainly an anxiety disorder or antisocial personality disorder — among both the bullies and those being bullied.

While victims of bullying were more likely to develop anxiety disorders, the bullies themselves were at higher risk to develop antisocial personality disorder. Those who have both been bullies and bullied tended to develop both anxiety and antisocial personality disorders, the researchers found. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

Bullying was defined in the study as an aggressive act that can be physical, verbal, or indirect, with an imbalance of power in which the victim cannot defend him or herself. In the study, the bullying behavior also had to be repetitive.

Andre Sourander, the lead researcher, noted that information about the long-term effects of bullying had considerable public health significance that would justify universal or targeted preventive interventions and research directed at school bullying.

The Finnish researchers examined 2,540 boys born in 1981. At the age of 8 years, these boys were asked whether and how often they bullied other children, were targets of bullying, or both. Parents and teachers also answered questions about bullying or victimization. This information was then compared with psychiatric diagnoses in young adulthood, made during medical exams for compulsory military service and army registry at 18 to 23 years of age.

Bullying and victimization are both associated with poor family functioning, parental violence, subsequent conduct and personality disorders, and increased criminality.

Boys in the study who were both bullies and victims were at five-times increased risk for a psychiatric disorder than those who were neither a bully nor a victim.

The study concluded that combined bullying and victimization posed the greatest risk for psychiatric morbidity followed by bullying and victimization.

“Both bullying and victimization during early school years are public health signs that identify boys who are at risk of suffering psychiatric disorders in early adulthood,” the researchers wrote. “The school health and educational system has a central role to play in detecting these boys at risk.”

Researchers recommended increased efforts at targeted mental health screening to identify bullies, victims, and combined bullies and victims.

In a US survey, 17% of children in grades 6 to 10 reported being bullied, 19% being bullies, and 6% being both bullies and victims.

Source: Pediatrics