WOMEN who have experienced bullying are more likely to smoke, take illicit drugs, and be overweight or obese, a new study has found.
Research conducted at the University of Newcastle shows that almost one in five 18-to-23 year old women had been bullied recently, and more than half had been bullied in the past, resulting in serious physical and mental health issues.
Lead author Natalie Townsend, from the Research Centre for Generational Health and Ageing and HMRI, said more than half of the women who were bullied recently had suicidal thoughts, and a third had self-harmed.
“Women who experienced bullying reported worse general health, higher levels of psychological distress and were more likely to smoke, take illicit drugs and be overweight or obese,” Ms Townsend said.
Almost 17,000 women aged between 18 and 23, who participate in the longitudinal Women’s Health Australia study, were surveyed. Compared to women who had never experienced bullying, those recently bullied were 2.9 times more likely to have high psychological distress, 2.7 times more likely to have felt that life was not worth living, and four times more likely to have self-harmed.
The study’s co-author, professor Deborah Loxton, said policymakers and healthcare professionals needed to recognise the scale of the problem, and take action with interventions, ongoing support and treatment.
Professor Loxton said this was the first study to look at the health impact of bullying in adult women at a national level, rather than focusing on a particular industry or workplace setting.
The research was published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
“Even when bullying isn’t physical, the experience still has a long lasting effect on physical health, not just mental health,” Ms Townsend said. “Our bodies’ physical and hormonal response to stress can increase the risk of chronic disease and trigger the onset of predisposed conditions.”