Bullying in childhood and adolescence can have an impact on health in adulthood

23 January 2023

Santiago de Compostela, January 13, 2023.- The impact that having suffered bullying in childhood has on health in adulthood was the central theme of a study recently published in the prestigious International Journal Translational Medicine in which he collaborated IDIS researcher Roberto Carlos Agis Balboa. Behaviors such as insults, threats, nicknames, rejections and even physical attacks by peers are not an isolated circumstance. When this type of experience is suffered repeatedly and/or for prolonged periods, it is called bullying. Studies on school bullying have shown that it is an extremely difficult situation with negative ramifications in mental health not only in the context of its occurrence but also in the long term. For example, there is evidence that those who have suffered bullying are more likely to have psychological problems such as depression and anxiety in their adult life. The impact of bullying can be explained by the fact that it poses a threat to the basic need to be accepted and to feel integrated in the social circle. Throughout the life cycle, positive social connection is important for well-being, but during the formative years it can be even more so. Thus, it is not surprising that it has an impact not only on self-perception or identity, but also on social relationships and even on a neurobiological level. On the other hand, school bullying could be conceived as a type of toxic stress on the neurobiological stress response systems with long-term implications in aspects such as psychophysiological reactivity and/or a greater propensity to suffer from various physical symptoms. Although there is clear evidence of the relationship between bullying and long-term emotional problems, few studies have explored its possible association with personality problems, except for some that point to its association with the so-called borderline personality disorder. In the work we asked if, “among adult patients, suffering school bullying in childhood/adolescence is associated with dysfunctional or long-term problematic personality traits such as those that make up the different personality disorders recognized in psychopathological classifications. These traits are considered dysfunctional because they compromise adaptation and well-being”, says Roberto Carlos Agis Balboa. To answer this question, two groups of patients were formed according to whether or not they reported being victims of bullying at school. Through a questionnaire and a clinical interview, the presence of various dysfunctional personality traits was compared in both groups. The main result of the study was that those with a history of school bullying in their childhood/adolescence were significantly more likely to meet the criteria used for the diagnosis of three of the personality disorders: avoidant, depressive and paranoid. In summary, these patients tended to present higher levels of social anxiety and anticipation of rejection, a more devalued perception of themselves, chronic feelings of unhappiness and a marked tendency to mistrust in relationships with others. The results can be interpreted as a reflection of the role of school bullying in the initiation of behavioral patterns and dysfunctional attitudes that can last a lifetime and compromise well-being. It is important to note that, by definition, the people who participated in the study suffered from psychological problems for which they had sought mental health care. The conclusions, therefore, cannot be generalized to the general population. That is, the patients with a history of bullying in the study would probably have had a problematic trajectory throughout their lives in which, hypothetically, bullying could have played a relevant role. However, it is likely that many people who go through this type of circumstances have very different life trajectories and show resilience in the face of this adversity. On the other hand, even if it is conceived as a circumstance of special relevance to the above, it does not cease to be part of a context in which there may be many other important influences that may mediate or moderate its impact: there are multiple paths that lead to the points end of adaptation or maladaptation and the impact of bullying will vary within one’s context along with other conditions. Over the years there has been a growing concern for this problem with various investigations that not only document its relevance to psychological disorders, but also focus on the effectiveness of preventive interventions. Not in vain, school bullying is considered a priority in public health policies and there is evidence of the effectiveness of programs aimed at preventing this type of behavior. Research work on bullying carried out by Rafael Fernández and Roberto Agís, from IISGS and IDIS, respectively: https://www.mdpi.com/2673-8937/3/1/2 More information about IDIS The Institute of Health Research of Santiago de Compostela (IDIS) was born in 2008 as a result of the collaboration between the Health Area of Santiago de Compostela and Barbanza (SERGAS) and the University of Santiago de Compostela. Its objective is to identify and develop new solutions that respond to society’s health problems. With a team of more than 1000 researchers, 99 research groups, 46 M€ of funds and 128 research projects captured, the IDIS contributes with its work to increase knowledge of health and to the consolidation of innovation in the health sector

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