College-aged women who were bullied in middle school or high school continue to experience a range of negative emotions, including anxiety and lack of self-confidence, years after their experiences. But according to a new study from researchers at the University of Maine, some are also able to find positive gains and growth because they take pride in overcoming bullying and moving on in their lives as young adults.

Researchers have long recognized that school bullying leads to feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and fear in victims, along with other outcomes ranging from avoidance of certain activities and situations to suicide. . These negative impacts can persist into adulthood, affecting the mental and physical health, economic status and social life of those who have been bullied.

The UMaine study was conducted by Katelyn Smith, who graduated from the university in 2017, and family relations and human sexuality professor Sandra Caron. They sought to better understand the long-term impact of school bullying on girls by asking a dozen college-aged women who had been bullied in middle school and/or high school to describe the bullying behaviors they had experienced, how it affected them at the time. , and the ongoing impact it has had on their college experience.

The most common type of bullying, which all study participants said they had experienced, was verbal bullying, such as “calling names, spreading rumors and threats”.

“When I was in high school, one of the girls who bullied me said, ‘You could jump off a bridge and die and nobody would care,'” one of the victims said.

Half of the women also reported physical assaults.

“I was dreading getting on the bus home from school,” said one participant. “The same girl would purposely sit behind me and spit in my hair…or throw trash at me out the bus window as I got on the bus.”

Other experiences included exclusion from social or group activities and cyberbullying.

In addition to the negative emotions felt at the time, researchers asked how bullying at school continued to impact victims as students.

“During the first few months of entering university, I didn’t talk to anyone or try to make friends,” said a former victim. “Being myself was a big deal for me because I had been bullied into being myself for so many years. I was left alone for fear of being judged.

However, 10 of the women said they had come a long way since being bullied, and eight said they had ‘turned the bullying experience into a positive’ by being nicer. and more tolerant of others.

“I am currently taking part in group counseling sessions, and it has helped me a lot,” said one of the participants. “It took me three years, but I feel stronger and more confident now.”

All of the women who participated in the study discussed what can be done to prevent bullying at school. Ideas ranged from improving training for students and school staff to monitoring students who frequently miss school to ensure parents are aware of what their children are doing on the internet and talking to their children. bullying.

The study appears in the journal Current psychology.

Contact: Casey Kelly, [email protected]