Bullies Face More Health, Safety Risks Than Their Victims Do

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Compared to their victims, bullies experience a significantly higher risk of a wide range of health, safety and educational problems, according to research in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health.

“We see that the [obvious] victims are not the only victims. The bullies are also victims of their own emotional problems,” said lead study author Jorge Srabstein, M.D., medical director of the Clinic for Health Problems Related to Bullying at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

He and his coauthor analyzed data from a 1996 survey of 9,574 students in grades 6 through 10. Students noted their involvement in bullying in the last year, but also identified whether they had participated in a variety of risky behaviors.

More than one-third (39 percent) of students reported some involvement in bullying within the preceding 12 months, either as bullies, victims or both.

“Both the bullies and the victims have a very significant, high probability of suffering from injuries — self-inflicted, accidental and injuries that are perpetrated by others — as compared to those who are not involved in bullying incidents. Because of this, they are at a considerable danger of dying from suicide, homicide and accidents,” Srabstein said.

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In this study, victims proved more likely to inflict self-injury or experience accidental injuries, abuse over-the-counter medications, hurt animals and people on purpose, use weapons and be absent from school, compared to uninvolved students.

However, the survey also revealed that bullies and bully/victims — students who have both bullied and been bullied — experienced an even greater risk of these problems than victims. Bullies and bully/victims were more likely — with up to a 14-fold increased risk — to abuse alcohol, drugs and tobacco; experience injuries requiring hospitalization; set fires; carry weapons to school; skip classes; and receive poor grades, compared to victims alone.

The authors’ findings about the prevalence of bullying are in line with other large studies from the United States and around the world, said Rachel Vreeman, M.D., a fellow in children’s health services research at Indiana University School of Medicine. She had no connection to the study.

“Bullying occurs among children in every part of the world where it has been studied. The amount of bullying has not changed in recent years. Instead, more people identify bullying as a problem among children, look for bullying and look for ways to prevent it,” Vreeman said.

“While being involved in bullying is associated or tied with some scary things like hurting others, using weapons and abusing medicines, this does not mean that one causes the other. They go together in these groups of kids, but this type of study cannot tell us that being bullied or being a bully means that you will do these types of things,” she said.

Ultimately, the research highlights bullying as a public health issue for both educators and health care practitioners, Srabstein said. Both “bullies and victims need to be referred for health care if their participation is accompanied by problems like this,” he said.

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