Children who experience bullying, a type of peer victimization, show worse mental and physical health cross-sectionally. Few studies have assessed these relationships longitudinally. We examined longitudinal associations of bullying with mental and physical health from elementary to high school, comparing effects of different bullying histories.
We analyzed data from 4297 children surveyed at 3 time points (fifth, seventh, and tenth grades) in 3 cities. We used multivariable regressions to test longitudinal associations of bullying with mental and physical health by comparing youth who experienced bullying in both the past and present, experienced bullying in the present only, experienced bullying in the past only, or did not experience bullying.
Bullying was associated with worse mental and physical health, greater depression symptoms, and lower self-worth over time. Health was significantly worse for children with both past and present bullying experiences, followed by children with present-only experiences, children with past-only experiences, and children with no experiences. For example, 44.6% of children bullied in both the past and present were at the lowest decile of psychosocial health, compared with 30.7% of those bullied in the present only (P = .005), 12.1% of those bullied in the past only (P < .001), and 6.5% of those who had not been bullied (P < .001).
Both chronic and current bullying are associated with substantially worse health. Clinicians who recognize bullying when it first starts could intervene to reverse the downward health trajectory experienced by youth who are repeated targets.