Bullying, abuse can be as harmful as heart disease: report

Bullying can have severe health effects, according to experts. Source: Getty

A new study conducted by the University of Adelaide has linked bullying and sexual abuse to an overall lower quality of life.

Victims of bullying or sexual abuse have a lower quality of life similar to those living with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes or depression, new research has found.

A study by the University of Adelaide also found victims are more likely to display harmful behaviours like smoking and binge eating.

The study investigated about 3000 South Australians who took part in face-to-face interviews to determine the age when their abuse or bullying began and its duration.

Bullying and sexual abuse has been linked to smoking dependence.
Bullying and sexual abuse has been linked to smoking dependence.

"Sexual abuse and bullying were related to harmful behaviours like smoking dependence and binge eating, antidepressant use, and reduced quality of life," David Gonzalez-Chica from the university's medical school said.

"Those who suffered bullying and sexual abuse were three times more likely to be binge eaters than people who had never experienced these forms of abuse.

"Antidepressant use was up to four times more likely and smoking dependence was twice as frequent."

The study included participants of all ages, urban and rural settings and socioeconomic level.

In Australia, almost half of all adults have experienced bullying and 10 per cent have experienced some form of sexual abuse.

The study found that among people who had two or more adverse outcomes such as smoking addiction, binge eating, antidepressant use, and a lower quality of life, the probability they had suffered bullying or sexual abuse ranged between 60 to 85 per cent.

"If a doctor finds a patient with multiple harmful behaviours who is depressed and has a lower quality of life, they should consider exploring whether these patients were victims of bullying or sexual abuse," Dr Gonzales-Chica said.

"According to our results it is very likely they suffered from these forms of abuse," he said.

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

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).

More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.

- Additional reporting: Nick Baker 

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch