SEATTLE -- A new study reports children who are bullied are at significantly higher risk of developing physical ailments caused by stress than those who are not picked on. A local specialist warns these health impacts, if ignored, could last into adulthood.
According to researchers from the University of Padua in Italy, bullied children and adolescents are twice as likely to experience psychosomatic problems - physical symptoms caused by mental stress – compared to their non-bullied peers. These can include headaches, loss of appetite, sleeping problems, abdominal pain and bedwetting. The effects are especially common in boys.
The study reports bullied children can suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and a generally unhealthy outlook on life.
Authors argue that bullying should be considered a significant international public health problem and that early detection and prevention are crucial to a person’s health and well-being.
Erik Schlocker, a social worker in the Seattle Children’s Hospital Division of Adolescent Medicine, was not surprised by the study’s findings, and said these health impacts can have long-term impacts.
“These tend to be problems that affect the transition into adulthood and achievement during adulthood,” Schlocker said.
As adults, people who were bullied can have greater difficulties getting and keeping a job, Schlocker said.
Online bullying can be even more harmful that traditional face-to-face conflicts, Schlocker said.
“The child may not know the perpetrator and there’s no refuge,” he said.
Children often don’t want to admit they’re being bullied, so Schlocker said parents should watch for warning signs like depression, anxiety, irritability, refusal to go to school, abdominal pain, declining grades or avoiding social engagements.
“Ask open ended questions,” Schlocker advised. “Be present. Reassure the child you’re glad that they opened up. Take and non-judgmental stance and don’t be accusatory.”