Being bullied during childhood might have lifelong health effects related to chronic stress exposure, including an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes in adulthood, a study has showed.
Bullying — a classic form of chronic social stress — could have lasting effects on physical health as any form of continued physical or mental stress can put a strain on the body, leading to increasing wear and tear, called as allostatic load.
This allostatic load reflects the cumulative impact of biological responses to ongoing or repeated stress, the researchers said.
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. In such states of allostatic overload, physiological processes critical to health and well-being can be negatively impacted,” said Susannah J. Tye from the Mayo Clinic — non-profit health care research organisation in the US.
With increasing allostatic load, chronic stress can lead to changes in inflammatory, hormonal, and metabolic responses. Over time, these physiological alterations can contribute to the development of diseases, including depression, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as progression of psychiatric disorders, Tye added.
In addition, chronic stress may also impair the child’s ability to develop psychological skills that foster resilience, reducing their capacity to cope with future stress.
According to researchers, the study shows the importance of addressing bullying victimisation as a “standard component” of clinical care for children — at the primary care doctor’s office as well as in mental health care.
“Once dismissed as an innocuous experience of childhood, bullying is now recognised as having significant psychological effects, particularly with chronic exposure,” Tye said.