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Social Bullying Linked to Anxiety and Depression in Adults

Posted Oct 03 2008 12:52pm

This research is interesting. The impact of social bullying (being the target of rumor, gossip, exclusion from a group, etc.) may have important psychological consequences for people, well into adulthood. As the concept of bullying has broadened past the more well-known variety (physical bullying), there has been more interest in assessing the impact of social bullying on people. From the article:

"Even though people are outside of high school, the memories of these experiences continue to be associated with depression and social anxiety," said Dempsey, who graduated from Columbine High School in Colorado one year before the 1999 school shooting there and now studies school prevention programs. "It was interesting to see these relationships still continue to exist even though they are in early adulthood now and in a completely different setting.

The researchers examined possible gender differences, as well as whether having friends reduced the impact of the social intimidation. The results did not find any differences between the genders in terms of the impact of bullying, and also found having friends provided no buffer from the onset of anxiety or depression.  The article touches on how this type of interpersonal difficulty can lead to depression and anxiety - through the re-shaping of one’s self-view. Another quote:

For some children, having friends and positive support can help make them more resilient to the slings and arrows from bullies, Storch said. But other children take the words and abuse more to heart and begin to believe what's being said about them. "Those types of negative thoughts are actually believed to be at the core of things like depression and anxiety," Storch said. "Behaviorally what starts happening is you avoid interactions and situations that could be quite positive for you."

Depression and anxiety are heavily impacted by social interactions, so this result is not surprising. It is also encouraging that the authors examined this aspect of the connection between the social bullying and the onset of depression and anxiety, because it fits perfectly. What is less encouraging is that there isn’t much research in terms of prevention programs specifically focused on these kinds of issues. The focus, until recently, has been on the more physical types of bullying. In addition, the article notes many people will simply write off these types of incidents as typical difficulties we all have to go through, but it’s much more than that, as the recent MySpace suicide incident demonstrated. People carry these experiences with them far longer than many realize, and they can prove to be quite destructive and limiting. Hopefully research like this will initiate more work into school prevention and education.

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