Childhood bullying may increase mental health problems in college, study finds

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COLUMBIA - A new study published in the journal Social Psychology of Education is shedding light on the long-term effects of childhood bullying. 

Researchers at the University of Illinois found that college students who experienced childhood bullying reported higher levels of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, than students who weren't bullied as children. 

Chad Rose is an assistant professor at the MU College of Education. Rose is involved in similar anti-bullying research at the university. 

"What was interesting about this study was that it demonstrated that [childhood bullying] accounted for 20 percent of the PTSD experienced by college students even after accounting for some of the other possible traumatic events that they could've experienced during childhood," Rose said. 

The study surveyed 480 college students. Being bullied as a child was the highest predictor of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms among the students.

Rose said problems with self-esteem, hostility and anger are also associated with bullying, and intervention is necessary to prevent further long-term consequences.

Riley Messer is an MU student. While she has not experienced bullying herself, her little brother has. She said it might affect him later on in life. 

"Environment has a huge effect on people in their later lives," Messer said. "So, you know, events like that are traumatic to young kids and can often affect their self esteem, and they don't forget the sorts of things that kids will say in middle school."

The researchers suggested colleges and universities have counseling centers that can recognize all forms of trauma, including childhood bullying. 

Rose said counselors need to make sure they ask students about previous instances of trauma, not just current traumatic experiences.

"We've been able to demonstrate that there's long-term effects associated with depression and anxiety both in traditional bullying and cyber-victimization, and so we need to make sure that these students are receiving support related to all these psycho-social outcomes," he said.

Students with any mental health concerns can see their university's counseling center or local health centers for support.