ROCHESTER, Minn. — Childhood bullying may impact more than just a victim’s social behavior and mental health during adolescent and teen years. A new research review finds that a child may suffer serious health setbacks later on in life as a result of being bullied.

According to research published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, childhood bullying might have lifelong health effects on a victim due to experiencing chronic stress. Among those health effects are an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The review, “How Well Do We Understand the Long-Term Health Implications of Childhood Bullying?”,was written by Susannah J. Tye, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic, and colleagues.

Bullying, sad teen
Researchers found that children who are victims of bullying are at greater risk of chronic disease in adulthood as a result of chronic stress.

“Bullying, as a form of chronic social stress, may have significant health consequences if not addressed early. We encourage child health professionals to assess both the mental and physical health effects of bullying,” says Tye in a release by Wolters Kluwer, which publishes the journal.

The researchers note that it’s well-documented that bullying can lead to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders, but the physical side effects have not been given as much attention. They explain why doctors and researchers should take a closer look at such effects, pointing to the ways chronic stress differs from occasional stress.

“When an individual is exposed to brief periods of stress, the body can often effectively cope with the challenge and recover back to baseline. Yet, with chronic stress, this recovery process may not have ample opportunity to occur, and allostatic load can build to a point of overload,” says Tye. “In such states of allostatic overload, physiological processes critical to health and well-being can be negatively impacted.”

Experiencing chronic stress over time can affect the inflammatory, hormonal, and metabolic responses, and in turn, create a variety of health issues. The researchers acknowledge that the cause and effect relationship aren’t yet directly pinpointed, but that it’s something to keep in mind. They hope that collaborations between clinical and basic science researchers could increase findings on this topic in the future.

The researchers also suggest that the “standard component” of health care for kids should include asking about bullying at the doctor’s office as well as in any mental health settings.

“Asking about bullying…represents a practical first step towards intervening to prevent traumatic exposure and reduce risk for further psychiatric and related morbidities,” says Tye.

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