Bullying and its Long Term Effects on Gay Men and Lesbians

In: Exploratory essays

Students who attend schools spend more time in schools than anywhere else during their schooling years. The essence of schooling is to nurture within students skills and experiences for effective integration within the society. The school environment plays an important role in this perspective in promoting effective learning. Studies conducted in the late 90s drew a particular emphasis on the role schools play in the mental and social development of students. The studies established that students attached a particular importance to the quality of their school life, and their perceptions and experiences in school were bound to have profound effects in their adult lives. Researchers have since managed to draw a direct link of education with developmental science so as to highlight the roles played by education in various aspects of the development of children (Kail, 2007). A particular area of study that will be the focus of this paper is the long-term effects of bullying with a special regard to gay men and lesbians.

Current Research Approaches

The strong correlation between schooling and developmental science prompted researchers to look into ways in which bullying affected the effective development of students and the quality of their subsequent adult lives. Researchers had for a long time suspected that victims of bullying were bound to develop emotional problems, become bullies themselves and demonstrate poor interpersonal skills. The suspicions were developed from the extrapolation of the immediate effects of bullying but further studies had to be conducted to substantiate the suspicions. A report on the effects in bullying presented to the House of Commons Committee on Education and Skills outlined that longitudinal studies had been effectively employed in different research initiatives. The studies employed both short term longitudinal and long term longitudinal approaches as a way of looking at both the short term and long term effects of bullying, and establishing whether previous extrapolations were justified. One study documented in the report sought to identify whether groups with low self-esteem were more likely to be bullied, or whether bullying led to low self-esteem. One point of emphasis was in the use of long term longitudinal studies because such aspects could not be highlighted using existing data. A study conducted in Finland over a period of one year involving 11 year olds and 13 year olds established that certain behavioral, physical and emotional challenges predisposed individuals to being bullied. The study also realized that bullying led to the emergence of behavioral, physical and emotional challenges or worsened these challenges in instances where they were already existent (Great Britain: Parliament: House of Commons: Education and Skills Committee, 2007). A study conducted by Ian Rivers in 2004 established that both victims and survivors of bullying had higher chances of showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress during their adult lives. The study used questionnaires to interview 199 students in the UK with an attempt to draw correlation between their present quality of life and the bullying experiences during school years. The aim of the study was to identify whether memories of bullying lingered in the minds of adults who had been bullied during their schooling years. The study was particularly concerned with the long term psychological effects of bullying on gays men, lesbians, bisexual individuals and persons who were thought to belong to these groups. The study assumed that both the survivors and the victims experienced similar psychological trauma. The only distinction drawn between the victim and the survivor is that the victim had managed to deal with the experiences to an extent that the memories could not affect their quality of lives. The results of the study significantly linked gays, lesbians and bisexual individuals with post-traumatic stress with some using prescription drugs to manage stress. Some of the symptoms exhibited by the victims and survivors included nightmares and homophobia (Rivers, 2007). A dissertation by Courtney Chambless in 2010 provides further development to the study conducted by Rivers because it seeks to create a distinction between victims and survivors with regard to subsequent stress disorders. The dissertation sought to establish whether cultural diversities played a significant role in the seriousness of depression caused by bullying, substantiating the results of past studies and the role of “coping strategies” in the various forms of stress experienced. The study established that gender and race played a significant role because females experienced higher levels of depression than males and whites also experienced higher levels of depression than blacks. The study managed to substantiate the results of previous studies that connected bullying to increased depression and loneliness. With regard to coping strategies the study did not find any consistent strategies across various groups that were effective in reducing the seriousness of depression (Chambless, 2010). The studies placed a specific emphasis on the use of longitudinal research approaches so as to highlight the long term effects within various groups. However, little emphasis was placed on the role of already existent conditions that might expose students to bullying. Although the report by the House of Commons Committee on Education and Skills established that some conditions exposed students to bullying, most contemporary studies have ignored the fact thereby affecting the nature of interventions employed while dealing with victims of bullying. Most assume that depression and other long terms challenges faced by victims of bullying are as a direct result of the bullying experiences, ignoring the fact that such conditions might have been existent prior to bullying. The second part of this paper will trace to conceptual origins that led to the linking of bullying to long term adult challenges such as depression, loneliness and internal “internal homophobia, suicidal tendencies, violent behaviors and other challenges faced by victims of bullying” (Dowd, 2006).

Conceptual Origins

The conceptual origins of studying the long term effect of bullying was based in the idea that the bullying experience whether physical or psychological became so embedded in the psyche of the victim to an extent that the memories lingered in their adulthood. Early anthropological studies in the 20th century had already managed to provide a detailed profile of the bully and the bullied. In schools just like any society chains of command among peers are very common and aspects used to categorize individuals vary. Most studies have been able to substantiate the fact that students who engage in bullying others have some aspects of real or perceived weakness, and they try to use bullying as a way to exert dominance on those they feel are better than them or as a compensation  for being challenged in other areas. Studies in early 20th century only sought to define the nature of relationship between the bully and the bullied as a way of identifying the circumstances that encouraged bullying. However, with the realization of a trend where victims of bullying later became bullies themselves, researchers began towards the experiences and perceptions of victims of bullying and how it affected their lives. Victims of bullying were identified as being at a much higher risk than survivors. Psychologists were able to establish that in most instances victims blamed themselves for being bullied and the state emanated to depression caused by self-pity.  As early as 1940s the concept of evolution of perpetrators was quickly taking root with the realization that the victims of bullying showed higher chances of bullying, regardless of whether the persons they bullied are the ones who had bullied them. Bullying was not only identified as a problem with personality but also a “system and culture” that was nurtured over an extended period of time (Miller, 2000). A study conducted in 1938 that sought to identify victims of bullying within a given school environments established that there were certain symptoms that were consistent with most of the victims. The aim of the study was to assist teachers in identifying victims and perpetrators of bullying in a situation where the victims were not able to come out and report. The symptoms identified ranged from restlessness, aggressiveness, depression, withdrawal, poor academic performance and poor interpersonal and communication skills. A study conducted in 1989 also established that cases of bullying increase in situations with students with special needs. The fact that people perceived individuals with special needs as being weak meant that they would be targets for bullies (Gillham, 1996). The current studies into the long term effects of bullying on lesbians, gay men and bisexuals have roots in the realization that bullying had profound effects on the psychological, social and physical health of the victims even in adulthood. Furthermore, the fact that very few lesbians and gay men have had the confidence to come out in public implies that they might have acquired fear at some stage in development. Bullying is one of the ways where fear can be instilled in lesbians and gay men.

Further Ideas from 19th Century and Earlier

Although the current American society is slowly embracing diversity with regard to sexuality especially promoted by the stance taken by the president Obama, lesbians and gay men still fall victims in the hands of bullies. The concept of bullying has a long history and there seems to be a significant connection between bullying and the competition for minimum resources, and the aspect of seclusion. Ideas from the 19th century writers that addressed exclusion of certain groups sheds more light into the long term effect of such exclusions on the subsequent lives of the victims. In 18th century American the lives of American women were characterized by social and economic exclusion from the important matters in the society, even when the matters affected them directly. The general effects on women during this period of time were two fold depending on the perception and experiences of the women. With regard to domestic violence, there were women who continually endured physical abuse from their husbands because they believed that they deserved such treatment. There were also a small group of women who spoke against domestic violence. The exclusion of women implied that the society considered them lesser beings as compared to men, and men usually found ways to justify violence against women. The treatment of women in this case emanated to gross bullying on the basis of gender. A study conducted among women established that those who endured domestic violence had higher chances of being violent towards children, other women or even men. The exclusion further made it worse and some women were even taken to asylums for trying to speak against domestic violence. The aspect of exclusion predisposed women to bullying and the fact that they were being bullied even made the situation worse for the psychological, social and physical health (Schornstein, 1997). The same causes and effects of exclusion can be extrapolated to current trends observed in the long term effects of bullying of gay men and lesbians. The effects of bullying become magnified when the wider society exhibits some aspect of seclusion with regard to the group being bullied. The interventions employed during the 19th and 20th centuries were counterproductive and ineffective due to their inability to tackle exclusion. The interventions were not able to strike a correlation between the immediate exclusion and subsequent bullying of a particular group, and the long term psychological, social and physical health of the victims. The aspect of exclusion preceded subsequent studies that sought to identify gays and lesbians as being at risk of bullying, and how the perception of the wider society impacted on the long term effects of bullying. The understanding of exclusion paved way for further studies that related to long term effects of bullying on gays and lesbians which included homophobia, depression and denial of their sexuality.


Previously, researchers only concentrated on the short term effects of the school life and how it affected learning and communication during schooling years. Current studies have however gone a step further in an attempt to link experiences during schooling years and the quality of adult life for the students later in life. Bullying has particularly been an area of emphasis due to the realization of its effects on the psychological, emotional and physical health on both the bullied and the bullies. There has been the realization that the long term effects of bullying are more profound, difficult to deal with and might be difficult to diagnose. Various research methodologies and approaches have been designed that have sought to strike a clear and defined relationship between the bullying and lasting psychological problems (Dowd, 2006). However, there seems to be continuing developments with regard to addressing issues related to bullying. From the study in the 19th century that looked at the perceptions of the individuals being bullied to the present studies concentrating on the long term effects of bullying, there is a general realization that bullying is not just affect personality of gay men and lesbians, but also affects the subsequent quality of psychological, social and physical health of the victims.