You’d think that as we grew older, we would grow out of bullying and intimidating behavior. And it’s true, some former school yard bullies learn the errors of their ways, and become productive members of society.
However, a survey by the CDC revealed that 20% of teenagers had been the victim of bullying, and perhaps shockingly that number increases to 25% in the workplace, as reported by the Workplace Bullying institute.
The saddening part about those statistics isn’t just that those victims are suffering in their day to day lives. Millions of people unable to enjoy waking up to a new day. It’s the long-term impact. Years later, having been bullied, long after the scars have healed, even for those physically abused, everything from immune health to risk of developing chronic diseases is still negatively affected.
If you’ve suffered yourself from bullying or seen someone who has, then you will have experienced first-hand the increase in stress it brings to people’s lives. A genuine anxiety becomes pervasive, as the victim worries what might happen next, and in some cases is even afraid to go to the office, or their school.
Poor attendance by some victims, can even lead to panic attacks, insomnia and the inability to sleep soundly through the night, which has further mental health consequences beyond the impact of the bullying.
After sustained bullying, a permanent ‘low mood’ can develop, leaving the victim prone to depression. This form of depression is known as ‘reactive depression’ as it is caused by events external to the victim.
Sadly this depression can lead to victims starting to become withdrawn, and lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed. Some are even unable to face going out at all, as well as being extremely anxious about being present where the bullying happens.
All of this can lead to the frame of mind where it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and distressingly a study by Yale University revealed that victims of bullying are up to nine-times more likely to contemplate suicide.
As you can tell from the devastating impact bullying has on mental health at the time, it is sadly not surprising to note that research shows that affect to last long-term. In fact a study by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry found that adult mental health is significantly poorer in childhood victims of bullying.
The human body responds with ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms designed to help us escape from dangerous situations, when we are subjected to bullying. This is caused by the feelings of fear that victims often suffer.
Additional stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline are produced leading to a faster heart rate, constricted blood vessels, and a tensing of muscles, and a release of the energy your body would normally store for fuel.
Systems which are not required for ‘fight or flight’ are often constrained by the body during this release, such as digestion, immune and reproductive systems. In a typical danger situation, this response only impacts the body for a short period, but the repeated exercising of this mechanism by a bullying victim both the frequency and the duration of the stress response can be dangerously high.
The link between this stress response and future health issues has not been proven, but is suspected by many experts to be one of the key factors at play in the health issues bullying victims go on to suffer.
Some research has indicated that during stressful situations, people can be significantly more likely to catch a cold, or flu, and that can in some instances lead to chest infections.
This weakened immunity, is suspected to lead to additional susceptibility to autoimmune disorders, as viral infections are often implicated as a cause. This includes things such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Development of allergies is more common in patients who have suffered from high levels of stress, often brought on by bullying. Normally the body adopts a more calm response to irritants, however those with an impaired immune system suffer more from an ‘overactive’ response by their body.
It is common for those who suffer from bullying to also experience general pain, ranging from muscle pain to headaches, without any physical cause being present. It is suspected that the primary reason for this is simply the stress response, which leads to feelings of tension.
However, prolonged periods of stress can also cause muscle breakdown and wasting because the body prepares to use additional fuel as part of the ‘fight or flight response’. This is borne out by evidence that fibromyalgia, which manifests itself through pain throughout the body, is correlated to having experienced significant stress.
A common thread between the conditions often suffered by those who have been bullied is stress. Stress is also a major contributor to the development of cardiovascular conditions, and heart disease. Stress increases blood pressure, cholesterol and is thought to cause general inflammation within the body, which are significant factors in heart disease risk. With some bullying subjects known to also turn to comfort eating, the risk can become extreme as a result of the bullying.
Nausea, changes to bowel patterns, and abdominal pain are all symptoms commonly experienced by people who have had experiences with bullying and may also result in a slowdown in digestion. This, in some instances, can also lead to irritable bowel syndrome, particularly as stress is a common contributing factor. Depression or a general sense of malaise onset as a result of bullying may result, especially combined with any of the conditions above, in significant wight loss.
Only through early identification and moves to ‘nip things in the bud’ as soon as possible, can these serious long-term health issues be prevented from developing in future, for those who are currently suffering from bullying.
All companies, colleges, and schools can play a pivotal role in this by ensuring that sound anti-bullying policies are in place and that support is always available for those who need it.
https://www.udemy.com/stopbullyingwithscience/ (Free Course)