Summary: Study reports people who experience bullying or abuse have a lower quality of life comparable to those living with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or depression. The study also reports those who are abused are more likely to develop harmful behaviors such as smoking or binge eating.
Source: University of Adelaide.
People who ever suffered bullying or sexual abuse have a lower quality of life similar to those living with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression or severe anxiety, a new study from the University of Adelaide has found..
They are also far more likely to display harmful behaviours like smoking dependence and binge eating.
The study, published in BMC Public Health, investigated around 3000 South Australians who took part in face-to-face interviews using self-labelling questions to measure the age of onset and duration of bullying and sexual assault and their outcomes during home interviews.
The study included participants of all ages, urban and rural settings and socioeconomic levels living in South Australia.
“In Australia almost half of all adults have experienced bullying and 10% have experienced some form of sexual abuse, and these experiences have had long-term effects on harmful behaviours, depression and quality of life,” says Dr David Gonzalez-Chica from the University of Adelaide’s Medical School.
While 60-70% of these forms of abuse occurred in childhood or adolescence, they were associated with worse outcomes later in life.
“Sexual abuse and bullying were related to harmful behaviours like smoking dependence and binge eating, antidepressant use, and reduced quality of life,” Dr Gonzalez-Chica says.
“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.”
If someone had two or more adverse outcomes (smoking dependence, binge eating, antidepressant use, and a lower quality of life) the probability they had suffered bullying and/or sexual abuse ranged between 60-85%.
“Talking about an experience of bullying or sexual abuse in a face-to-face interview is very complicated because of the sensitive nature of these questions,” Dr Gonzalez-Chica says.
“The study showed that it is feasible to use such kind of short but well-structured questions instead of long questionnaires to explore these issues.
This is particularly relevant for medical appointments where there is limited time for exploring so many different outcomes.
“If a doctor finds a patient with multiple harmful behaviours — like smoking dependence and binge eating — who is depressed and has a lower quality of life, they should consider exploring whether these patients were victims of bullying and/or sexual abuse, as according to our results it is very likely they suffered from these forms of abuse.
“Identifying survivors of both forms of abuse is important to provide support and reduce more severe mental and physical consequences, such as suicide.”
Source: David Gonzalez-Chica – University of Adelaide
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Original Research: Open access research for “Bullying and sexual abuse and their association with harmful behaviours, antidepressant use and health-related quality of life in adulthood: a population-based study in South Australia” by David Alejandro González-Chica, Julio Licinio, Michael Musker, Mali Wong, Jacqueline Bowden, Phillipa Hay, Catherine Chittleborough and Nigel Stocks in BMC Public Health. Published January 7 2019.
Bullying and sexual abuse and their association with harmful behaviours, antidepressant use and health-related quality of life in adulthood: a population-based study in South Australia
Few representative sample studies have reported estimates of bullying and sexual abuse in Australia. By using face-to-face interviews and self-labelling questions, we investigated the prevalence of these forms of abuse and their relationship with current harmful behaviours (smoking dependence, excessive alcohol intake, binge eating), antidepressant use, and the physical (PCS) and mental (MCS) components of health-related quality of life.
This study was a population-based survey that investigated 2873 South Australians in 2015 (48.8 ± 18.1 years; 49.3% males). Bullying and sexual abuse (age of onset and duration) and their outcomes were investigated through household interviews. Associations were adjusted for sociodemographic variables by using regression models.
45.6% (95% CI 43.3–47.9) of the participants were bullied, and 10.4% (95% CI 9.1–11.9) sexually abused; 7.3% (95% CI 6.2–8.5) reported experiencing both forms of abuse. Moreover, 15.8% of those bullied and 15.0% of those sexually abused suffered from these forms of abuse for > 24 months. Smoking dependence (7.8%) was twice as frequent among those who experienced bullying for > 24 months or when sexual abuse occurred in childhood (< 10 years) or adulthood (20+ years) or lasted ≥1 month. Excessive alcohol intake (14.3%) was more frequent when bullying occurred in childhood or lasted > 24 months. Binge eating (8.1%) was more frequent among those bullied or sexually abused in adulthood, but duration did not show a clear pattern. Antidepressant use was up to four times more likely, and PCS or MCS lower among those who were bullied or sexually abused, independent of when these forms of abuse started or their duration. The cumulative adverse relationship of bullying and sexual abuse with the investigated outcomes was more evident for smoking dependence, binge eating, PCS, and MCS than for antidepressant use, but no association was observed with alcohol intake.
The use of self-labelling questions to investigate sensitive areas such as bullying and sexual abuse in a survey is feasible. Such questions provided estimates that are consistent with findings from studies using more detailed instruments. Bullying and sexual abuse have an additive adverse association with various outcomes. Identifying survivors of both forms of abuse is important to avoid more serious consequences.