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10 Deeply Depressing Facts About Bullying

by Morris M.
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Who here was bullied at school? If you’re from the US, chances are you experienced it at some point: Around 80 percent of all American school kids report being harassed by their peers. But modern bullying goes way beyond Nelson Muntz handing out wedgies and into some seriously dark, disturbing territory.

10It Destroys Your Future Job Prospects

The standard old-school view says bullying is a “natural part of growing up,” something we leave behind when we graduate to the world of work. But research suggests not only is this untrue, but being bullied can ensure we never even get to work at all.

In 2013, a group of researchers decided to check in on some young adults they’d included in a bullying study a decade and a half ago. Now in their mid-twenties, the group had grown up and seemingly moved on. But when the study doctors dug a little deeper, they found some shocking results. The subjects who had been bullied way back in middle school were nearly two times less likely to hold down a job than their non-bullied peers.

Unsurprisingly, this had a knock-on effect on the victims’ finances. Subjects who had been bullied were far more likely to live in poverty and make bad financial decisions. As the misery-flavored icing on this depressing cake, they also tended to suffer from health problems, leading to skyrocketing health bills.

9It Damages Your Mental Health

How many of you can still remember the absolute worst moments of your childhood? That time when you wet yourself when you were way too old to get away with it or got completely humiliated by some arrogant teacher? Now imagine feeling that about your entire childhood. It’d destroy you, right?

If recent research is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding “yes.” As another part of the above study, researchers looked into the long-term mental health effects of childhood bullying. Adults who were bullied at school suffered crippling levels of anxiety and agoraphobia, while also being prone to severe panic attacks. Meanwhile, those who had responded to being bullied by becoming bullies themselves were prone to awful depressions and feelings of panic. In short, cruelty that had happened up to 15 years beforehand was still wreaking havoc on its victims’ lives.

8It Can Get You In Trouble With The Law

It’s no secret that bullying sometimes gets so out of hand that the cops are called in. But although we might expect bullies to experience the odd run-in with the law, their victims surprisingly often experience the very same thing.

According to multiple studies, being long-term bullied as a kid increases your chances of being arrested. Not by some tiny amount—one study estimated that nearly a quarter of all kids who get picked on will wind up in a cell at some point.

The trouble is that late childhood and early adolescence are the times when we’re meant to learn social skills and how to be a part of society. If we spend all that time being beat on and made to feel like dirt, joining society no longer seems a desirable achievement. Long-term bullied kids shut off. They disconnect from the world around them and become miserable, angry, and bitter. All that anger and bitterness tends to come out when they hit adulthood, resulting in fights, petty crime, and jail time.

7It Affects The Entire Economy

But it’s not just those who were bullied who have to live with the effects. According to recent research, it affects all of us, whether or not we were even involved. Youth violence costs the US economy $158 billion every year.

This budget-shredding figure comes courtesy of Plan International, a charity devoted to children’s rights. They reached it by calculating public money lost by frightened kids skipping school and future earnings lost to those who drop out to escape their tormenters. They also agree that it’s only an estimate: The real figure is likely to be much higher. If true, this would mean the United States loses almost double the federal education budget annually to bullying.

6It Increases Sexual Violence

Most of us would consider childhood bullying and teenage sexual violence to be completely different things. But a joint study between the Center for Disease Control and Illinois University says otherwise. According to their research, there’s plenty of evidence for a “bully–sexual violence pathway.”

“Sexual violence” was taken to include acts like pulling down clothes, as well as groping or grabbing genitals. And, happily, only a small minority of children seemed to graduate from bullying to any of these things. But the researchers also noted that the problems get worse as the kids get older, culminating in some pretty dark stuff. Bullies sometimes transplant their sexual urges onto their victims, while other boys get so freaked out at the idea of being gay that they sexually harass girls to prove their heterosexuality.

5It Makes You Prone To Suicide

Studies have claimed adolescents who get picked on are around 2.5 times more likely to try to kill themselves. But what’s less well known is how that risk stays with you for life. In 2007, a UK study found that adults who had been bullied at school were twice as likely to attempt suicide in later life.

The study included over 7,000 people all the way from young adulthood right up to the elderly. It specifically controlled for other factors like childhood sexual abuse, violent parents, and having been a teenage runaway. Yet the authors still concluded that bullying alone could cause a significant rise in your adult suicide risk. In essence, bullying stays with you. And what seems like a harmless bit of schoolyard fun could in reality be a long-term death sentence.

4It Messes Up Everyone Involved

So far, we’ve focused mostly on the baggage victims get stuck with in later life, but bullies themselves can suffer as well.

On just about every single measurement that matters, bullies do as bad as or worse than their victims. They’re more likely to engage in risky behavior, experience negative financial outcomes, and suffer social problems as adults. The only measurement where they do better than their victims is health, and even then, they do worse than those who weren’t involved in bullying at all.

So what’s going on? Is this just a symptom of the classic tortured bully trope, where a kid lashes out because of inner pain? Well, maybe in some cases. But studies have shown that plenty of normal, well-adjusted, and popular kids become bullies, too. Unbelievably, it may be that the simple act of bullying messes up the perpetrator as much as it does the victim.

3We Can’t Solve It

By now, you might be feeling slightly depressed. At least there’s a ray of light, though. Just pump enough money into anti-bullying campaigns, and it’ll all be sorted, right? Well, sorry to bring you down even more, but Arlington University says otherwise.

In a study published in the Journal of Criminology, researchers examined over 7,000 kids at 195 different schools, with and without anti-bullying programs. Schools with bullying prevention procedures suffered higher rates of bullying than those without. According to the study’s authors, things like “anti-bullying week” not only awaken kids to the concept of picking on others, they unintentionally give them information on how to weasel out of punishment afterwards.

Things aren’t totally hopeless. The researchers suggest more sophisticated programs could help identify bully-victim dynamics and create tailor-made prevention policies. But unless a lot of people are willing to pump a lot of money into them, these projects likely won’t ever get off the ground.

2Kids Actively Reward It

If we adults are powerless to help bullied kids, then it’s tempting to think maybe the kids themselves can make a difference. Only don’t hold your breath: A recent UCLA study revealed that middle school kids get more popular the more they bully.

This creates a massive problem for campaigners. If kids associate being a bully with being the coolest kid in class and standing up to bullying with getting beaten for your lunch money, then they’re going to side with the bullies every time. In fact, only the top 2 percent of universally liked kids in any given grade and the bottom 2 percent of universally despised kids seem immune from the need to bully, according to the study. For everyone else, acting like a total jerk is a guaranteed way up the social ladder.

1It’s Human Nature

Every single society in human history has had bullies, in one form or another. If you want something to blame, look no further than evolution.

Bullying exists across the animal kingdom, and in primates, it serves a very specific function. Chimps or apes who fail to conform to a group dynamic can endanger everyone around them or at least make the group less effective at surviving. So a bit of bullying can keep wayward primates in line.

Humans no longer need strict conformity and total cooperation to survive, yet our urge to pick on others remains. The whole thing is nothing more than a throwback, a septic appendix poisoning the entire body of humanity. And we’re stuck with it.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Morris M.

Morris M. is Listverse's official news human, trawling the depths of the media so you don't have to. He avoids Facebook and Twitter like the plague.