Importance: Both bullies and victims of bullying are at risk for psychiatric problems in childhood, but it is unclear if this elevated risk extends into early adulthood.
Objective: To test whether bullying and/or being bullied in childhood predicts psychiatric problems and suicidality in young adulthood after accounting for childhood psychiatric problems and family hardships.
Design: Prospective, population-based study.
Setting: Community sample from 11 counties in Western North Carolina.
Participants: A total of 1420 participants who had being bullied and bullying assessed 4 to 6 times between the ages of 9 and 16 years. Participants were categorized as bullies only, victims only, bullies and victims (hereafter referred to as bullies/victims), or neither.
Main outcome measure: Psychiatric outcomes, which included depression, anxiety, antisocial personality disorder, substance use disorders, and suicidality (including recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or a suicide attempt), were assessed in young adulthood (19, 21, and 24-26 years) by use of structured diagnostic interviews. RESULTS Victims and bullies/victims had elevated rates of young adult psychiatric disorders, but also elevated rates of childhood psychiatric disorders and family hardships. After controlling for childhood psychiatric problems or family hardships, we found that victims continued to have a higher prevalence of agoraphobia (odds ratio [OR], 4.6 [95% CI, 1.7-12.5]; P < .01), generalized anxiety (OR, 2.7 [95% CI, 1.1-6.3]; P < .001), and panic disorder (OR, 3.1 [95% CI, 1.5-6.5]; P < .01) and that bullies/victims were at increased risk of young adult depression (OR, 4.8 [95% CI, 1.2-19.4]; P < .05), panic disorder (OR, 14.5 [95% CI, 5.7-36.6]; P < .001), agoraphobia (females only; OR, 26.7 [95% CI, 4.3-52.5]; P < .001), and suicidality (males only; OR, 18.5 [95% CI, 6.2-55.1]; P < .001). Bullies were at risk for antisocial personality disorder only (OR, 4.1 [95% CI, 1.1-15.8]; P < .04).
Conclusions and relevance: The effects of being bullied are direct, pleiotropic, and long-lasting, with the worst effects for those who are both victims and bullies.