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Almost one in five 18-23 year old women have been bullied resulting in serious physical and mental health issues, according to research from the University of Newcastle.

Lead author Natalie Townsend from the Research Centre for Generational Health and Ageing and Hunter Medical Research Institute Public Health Program, said it was very concerning that more than half of 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.”

The researchers found that compared to women who had never experienced bullying, those recently bullied were:

  • 2.9 times more likely to have psychological distress
  • 2.7 times more likely to have felt that life was not worth living
  • 4 times more likely to self harm

Twenty-seven percent of the recently bullied women reported their general health as ‘fair’ to ‘poor’ compared with 10% of women never bullied. The physical impact was long lasting with 17% of women bullied in the past reporting their health as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’.

“It’s important to understand that even when bullying isn’t physical, the experience still has long lasting effects on physical health, not just mental health,” Ms Townsend said. “Our body’s physical and hormonal response to stress can increase the risk of chronic disease and trigger the onset of predisposed conditions.”

Co-author Professor Deborah Loxton said policymakers and healthcare professionals urgently needed to recognise the scale of the problem and take action. “We need to provide interventions and ongoing support and treatment for adults.”