Adults who were bullied as children oftentimes still feel the effects of their torment—including heightened levels of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety and panic disorder, conditions that might lead someone to seek out massage therapy.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found that bullied children can suffer lasting psychological harm as adults.

They found that bullied children grow into adults who are at increased risk of developing anxiety disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts, according to a university press release.

The findings, based on more than 20 years of data from a large group of participants initially enrolled as adolescents, are the most definitive to date in establishing the long-term psychological effects of bullying.

“We were surprised at how profoundly bullying affects a person’s long-term functioning,” said William E. Copeland, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University and lead author of the study.

“This psychological damage doesn’t just go away because a person grew up and is no longer bullied,” he said. “This is something that stays with them. If we can address this now, we can prevent a whole host of problems down the road.”

As adults, those who said they had been bullied, plus those who were both victims and aggressors, were at higher risk for psychiatric disorders compared with those with no history of being bullied. The young people who were only victims had higher levels of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia.

Those who were both bullies and victims had higher levels of all anxiety and depressive disorders, plus the highest levels of suicidal thoughts, depressive disorders, generalized anxiety and panic disorder. Bullies were also at increased risk for antisocial personality disorder.

The results were published online Feb. 20, 2013, in JAMA Psychiatry.

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