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Bullying's Health Effects Snowball Over Time

<p>Kids who are bullied have worse mental and physical health — and the effect seems to snowball over time, a new study finds.</p>
Image: Scene from the movie "Bully"
Kids who were bullied like those in the film "Bully," pictured above, had worse physical and mental health, and the effect seemed to snowball over time.The Weinstein Company

Kids who are victims of bullying have worse mental and physical health, more symptoms of depression and lower self-worth — and the effect seems to get worse as time goes on, according to new research.

Previous research has shown that bullying can lead to health problems, and the study in Monday's Pediatrics demonstrated that the effects of bullying can actually snowball over time.

The researchers followed 4,297 children in Los Angeles, Birmingham, and Houston at three points: fifth, seventh, and 10th grades. The kids were asked about bullying and also completed questionnaires designed to look for symptoms of depression, low self-esteem and poor physical health.

Those who were being bullied had high levels of depressive symptoms, low self-worth and more problems with basic physical activity. And the longer the bullying went on, the worse the problem was. For example, 10th graders who were being bullied reported problems, but the worst problems were reported by kids who experienced bullying in fifth and seventh grades, too. Almost half of these continuously bullied kids had poor psychological health — seven times more than kids who had never been bullied.

"We're seeing that the effects of bullying get worse over time," said Dr. Laura Bogart, a social psychologist in the Division of General Pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital and lead author on the study. "This gives more evidence that it's important to intervene early."

So what should parents do to protect their kids? Talk to them and know the signs of bullying, suggests Dr. Bogart. Unexplained cuts and bruises or signs of troubled mental health — unexplained anxiety, or a child who suddenly doesn't want to go to school — are all red flags.

Simple questions for the child like "how was your day at school?" can help assess if a child is having issues.

"Hopefully [parents and other adults] can step in and stop some of these bad effects of bullying before they happen," she said.