We’ve become increasingly aware in recent years that bullying is a serious problem faced by children throughout their lives, but that awareness has been focused on the elementary and high school years. According to a recent study appearing in the journal Social Psychology of Education, bullying can have a negative impact on people well past the experiences themselves. The study looked at 480 college students, freshmen through seniors, and asked them about traumatic experiences they had through the age of 17, including bullying.

The study found that students who had experienced bullying were as likely to develop PTSD, depression, or anxiety as student who had experienced abuse, assault, or other trauma. The study also found that students who experienced one form of trauma were more likely to experiences others. One only has to look at the fallout faced by women who speak out about rape to understand that trauma can lead to personal attacks, for example.

The authors of the study have made the point that there must be improved treatment of college students who have experiences such trauma, and a wider understanding of what qualifies as trauma that must be addressed and treated. Counselors must understand that bullying can be as big a problem as other forms of trauma. But for educators working in the K-12 system, dealing with bullying needs to be taken even more seriously.

There are plenty of systems in place that work to prevent bullying or to stop it when discovered, but such systems are incomplete, and schools could certainly do more. We’ve gotten better at realizing that bullying is a serious problem, but that understanding needs to be further deepened to understand, and address, the fact that it can have an impact well into adulthood.

The primary goal of K-12 education is to train children to be functional adults and citizens, and part of that education has to include ways to prevent trauma or to help students deal with trauma when it does occur.