Bullying is a serious matter. I am often invited to hear the ongoing effects in men who have been bullied as a child. Very often the experience of being bullied can leave a man with the world view that other people cannot be trusted. Such paranoia kept the little boy safe, but locks the man he has become, into an unrewarding and isolating experience of the world. Paradoxically, it is also what people who bully adults look out for, and such men often become the focus for bullies in, for example, the work place.

What often complicates matters working with men who have been bullied, is that they have often become bullies themselves. They simply acted out what was dished out to them. In order to acknowledge the true extent of their own damage at the hands of bullies, they also have to acknowledge the extent of the damage they inflicted on others.

Given the propensity to view the world from a paranoid position, it is interesting that a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry claims that being bullied as a child can increase the risk of developing psychotic symptoms later in life. Psychotic symptoms are generally thought to represent a departure from reality by, for example, hearing voices that are not there, or imagining that you are the subject of a conspiracy by aliens.

The study, written by Andrea Schreier and colleagues at the University of Warwick also suggested that there was a ‘dose-response’ relationship. That is to say the children who experienced the worst bullying were most likely to develop psychotic symptoms later. Interestingly the type of bullying, whether it was subtle or overt, did not seem to matter. Both were equally damaging.

This study adds to the body of knowledge that suggests that childhood experiences of bullying are far from trivial and have a long term impact on some children. My experience of working with men, however, suggests that they find discussing their experiences at the hands of bullies extremely difficult. It is as if they take on the responsibility for being bullied, and their failure to respond to the bullies effectively becomes evidence of being inadequate as a man. This is, of course, heartbreaking because it sets the man up for a lifetime of feeling inadequate unless something is done about it.

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