How Bullying Affects Mental Health

Bullying is surprisingly common: one in five students between 12 and 18 years old report that they have experienced it. Bullying has a huge impact on the mental health of not only targets, but bystanders who witness an incident. Stigma can contribute to bullying among kids and teens. But fostering a safe, accepting environment where students feel comfortable reaching out for help can reduce it. Keep reading to learn more about the different forms of bullying, its effects on mental health, and what you can do to stop it.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying happens when someone intimidates or harms a person who they view as less powerful than them. For instance, a bully may be physically stronger than their target, have a higher social status at school, or know something about the target that could hurt or embarrass them. Bullying is not to be confused with fighting, which happens between people who have the same level of status or power. Bullies may use physical or verbal violence against their targets. This can include hitting, pushing, verbal threats, or name-calling.

Cyberbullying

Bullying doesn’t just happen at school. Overall, teens experience more bullying online than they do in real life. Nearly 2 in 3 teens have experienced cyberbullying, meaning their bully targeted them through social media, text, or other online platforms. Like in-person bullying, cyberbullying can go unnoticed by parents and teachers for a long time before it’s recognized as a problem.

Bullying and Mental Health

When a young person experiences bullying, it can seriously affect their mental health and identity. During childhood and adolescence, people are trying to explore themselves, their social roles, and find where they fit in. Bullying can interfere with this process and make it hard to form healthy relationships. As a result, targets of bullying may develop mental illnesses like anxiety or depression, and struggle with low self-esteem even later in life.

One important aspect of bullying that’s often looked over is the mental health of the bully. A study from Brown University showed that bullies are more than twice as likely to have a mental illness compared to students who weren’t considered bullies. Findings like this highlight the importance of helping students find a healthy outlet for anger or aggression and offering support if they need it.

Putting a Stop to Bullying

The Anti-Bullying Alliance spoke to young people about their experiences with bullying. They identified ways to stop bullying and reduce the effects it has on students’ mental health. Students said they needed more mental health support offered to them at school. More specifically, they needed to feel like the support had less stigma around it. Young people also wanted students and staff to collaborate and generate ideas on how to provide this support. They emphasized that staff should make students feel comfortable talking openly about their experience with bullying.
The students also wanted adults to be more aware that acting out or being disruptive may be a cry for help, and a sign that they are struggling with mental health. Actively listening to a young person’s concerns is an effective way for a student or teacher to help a student who tells them they are being bullied. This is a simple but underestimated way to help targets of bullying.

Anti-Bullying Resources

Are you interested in learning more about bullying prevention and how you can help young people who are being bullied? Here are a few organizations that provide programs and information on how to stop bullying.

PREVNet has a wealth of anti-bullying resources for parents and teachers to educate students about bullying and how to prevent it.

Bullying Canada is a charity that provides a 24/7 phone and online chat service that students can access here, as well as resources on how to stop bullying.

Stomp Out Bullying has a free, confidential crisis chat service. Young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are being bullied or cyberbullied can get support from a counselor.

Make your school a stigma-free zone.

Stigma-Free Society’s Student Mental Health Toolkit offers a variety of resources to educate students on mental health and eliminate stigma. If you are an educator interested in teaching your students about bullying and mental health, visit our Lesson Plans page for grades 8-12 and request access to view our lesson on Bullying in High School: The Long-Term Effects. This lesson plan aligns with the BC curriculum and contains a variety of activities to foster greater awareness about bullying and encourage inclusion in your classroom.