Bullying and sexual abuse linked with life-long harm

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  Last updated January 30, 2019 at 10:34 am


Survivors of bullying or sexual abuse early in life more likely to have a lower quality of life and be dependent on smokes.

Young boy crying and looking down

Bullying and sexual abuse have a lifelong toll, with survivors having a lower quality of life similar to living with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression or severe anxiety, shows new research.

They’re also more likely to participate in destructive actions like smoking dependence and binge eating.

The long-term effects were revealed by researchers from the University of Adelaide, and have been published in BMC Public Health.

“In Australia almost half of all adults have experienced bullying and 10% have experienced some form of sexual abuse, and these experiences have had long-term effects on harmful behaviours, depression and quality of life,” says David Gonzalez-Chica from the University of Adelaide.

Ongoing effects of bullying and sexual abuse obvious

The researchers interviewed nearly 3000 people from around South Australia, gauging the age of onset and duration of bullying and sexual assault, and their lifestyles and health in the years after.

Over 60% of abuse occurred in childhood or adolescence, however the ongoing effects were evident later in life.

“Sexual abuse and bullying were related to harmful behaviours like smoking dependence and binge eating, antidepressant use, and reduced quality of life,’’ says Gonzalez-Chica.

According to the research, binge-eating was around three times more common amongst people who had suffered bullying or sexual abuse, and anti-depressant use was four times more common.

They were also twice as likely to smoke if they had been bullied for more than 24 months, or sexually abused before the age of 10 or after the age of 20.

Drinking alcohol excessively was found to be more common if they had been bullied in childhood or for more than 24 months.

If people had two or more risk factors (smoking dependence, binge eating, antidepressant use, and a lower quality of life), there was a 60 to 85% chance they had suffered bullying or sexual abuse earlier in life.

Identifying survivors at risk of more serious consequences

While also giving an indication of the long-term traumas such experiences can inflict, the authors researchers also suggest it could provide a potential way of identifying survivors who may be at risk of more serious consequences.

“If a doctor finds a patient with multiple harmful behaviours – like smoking dependence and binge eating – who is depressed and has a lower quality of life, they should consider exploring whether these patients were victims of bullying and/or sexual abuse, as according to our results it is very likely they suffered from these forms of abuse.

“Identifying survivors of both forms of abuse is important to provide support and reduce more severe mental and physical consequences, such as suicide.”


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About the Author

Ben Lewis
Ben Lewis is the Editor of Australia’s Science Channel, and a contributor to Cosmos Magazine. He has worked with scientists and science storytellers including Jane Goodall, Dr Karl, Brian Cox, Chris Hadfield, Robert Llewellyn, astronauts, elite athletes, Antarctic explorers, chefs and comedians. Ben has also been involved in public events around Australia and was co-writer, producer and director of The Science of Doctor Who, which toured nationally in 2014 in association with BBC Worldwide Australia & New Zealand. Want more Ben? You can hear him on ABC and commercial radio in Adelaide, regional SA, across NSW, and the ACT. He also speaks at universities around Australia on communicating science to the public. Around the office he makes the worst jokes known to mankind.

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