“Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up; it has serious long-term consequences. It is important for schools, health services and other agencies to work together to reduce bullying and the adverse effects related to it,” according to Professor Dieter Wolke. In April, Wolke presented the findings of a study he conducted that compared the mental state of adults who had been bullied as children with that of adults who, as children, were mistreated by adults but not bullied by peers. He found childhood bullying produced much greater levels of anguish during adulthood than mistreatment did.

Wolke, a faculty member of the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick and the Warwick Medical School in Coventry, United Kingdom (UK), shared his study at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in San Diego, California, on April 28. His study expanded knowledge on how unpleasant childhood experiences affect well-being in adulthood.

Previous studies have documented the link between adult mental health consequences after experiencing mistreatment during childhood. Mistreatment is described as severe maladaptive parenting and/or emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

For his study, Wolke’s research team gleaned data from two long-term studies:

The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the UK (ALSPAC), which started in 1991. It Involved 4,026 children and their mothers, who reported any adult-oriented mistreatment the child experienced between 8 weeks of age to 8.6 years. When the children were 8 years old, they reported any experience with childhood bullying. The child’s reports on bullying were repeated at ages 10 and 13.

In the ALSPAC study, the following adverse childhood experiences were reported:

  • 8.5% experienced adult-based mistreatment only
  • 29.7% experienced only bullying by their peers
  • 7% reported both mistreatment and bullying

The Great Smoky Mountains Study in the USA (GSMS) began in 1993 to assess both adult mistreatment and childhood bullying in 1,420 children between ages 9 and 16.

In the GSMS study, the following adverse childhood experiences were reported:

  • 15% experienced adult-based mistreatment only
  • 16.3% experienced only bullying by their peers
  • 9.8% reported both mistreatment and bullying

Once each child turned 18, his or her state of mental health was assessed and compared to their childhood experiences. Of particular concern to the researchers were any overall mental health problems that included anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidal tendencies.

The findings of Wolke’s study reveal that, when the child was mistreated by adults, he or she was no more likely to experience adverse mental health issues than the adult children of the general population who did not experience mistreatment by adults during childhood. The adults who had been bullied were at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and self-harm than those who had experienced only mistreatment. The children who were both mistreated and bullied were also at heightened risk of depression, anxiety, and self-harm as adults.


  1. Lereya, Suzet Tanya, William E. Copeland, E. Jane Costello, and Dieter Wolke. "Adult mental health consequences of peer bullying and maltreatment in childhood: two cohorts in two countries." The Lancet / Psychiatry. Elsevier Limited, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.
  2. "Warning Signs." StopBullying.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 7 May 2015.
Keyword Tags: