One child was called a mean name. Someone else was pushed around. A third child was intentionally excluded from a social event by their classmates.
These are all individual events of someone being bullied, and from a simplistic point of view, the consequences are constrained and temporary. A child’s feelings are hurt, but they will move on. Their self-esteem drops, but it rebounds.
For many school-age children, however, being bullied involves multiple occurrences of the act over a consistent length of time. Whether it’s the victim or the person who does the bullying, this act that happens so often in schools, on playgrounds and over the internet can have long-term psychological consequences.
What Is National Bullying Prevention Month?
Each October, numerous organizations combine their efforts during National Bullying Prevention Month. Started by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006, the campaign raises awareness of the prevalence and effects of bullying.
According to StopBullying.gov, between 25 and 33 percent of school-age children in the United States reported being bullied at least once. The website also states that:
- Most instances of bullying occur in middle school
- Bullying does not just affect the person being bullied but also the person who does the bullying and anyone who witnesses the event
- When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds around 57 percent of the time
- Most bullying occurs in or around school, whether in the classroom, on the playground or on the school bus. However, with the rise of the internet, cyberbullying has received more attention in the 21st century
As this year’s National Bullying Prevention Month nears, The Recovery Village wants to help people understand how bullying can affect people well into adulthood. As the U.S. continues to remove the stigma associated with mental health disorders, people should understand the link between bullying and these diseases.
The Link Between Bullying and Mental Illness
The experiences faced in childhood can significantly alter a person’s psychological development. Whether a child grows up with two parents or one, whether they live in poverty or in a financially stable family, or if they endure traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one, so many different aspects during adolescence can affect someone’s mental health.
Being bullied during childhood is another leading cause of mental illness.
A study published in the JAMA Psychiatry Journal showed that people who were bullied as children were more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. Not only can bullying lead to mental illness for the victim but also for the child who is the bully.
“The effects of being bullied are direct, pleiotropic, and long-lasting,” says the article on the JAMA Psychiatry Journal that explains the study’s results, “with the worst effects for those who are both victims and bullies.”
When a child is bullied, they often have a drop in their own self-esteem. Being rejected by a peer, or a group of peers, can cause a child to feel self-conscious and be less likely to interact with their peers for fear of being bullied again. Aside from feeling depressed due to the rejection, this experience can lead to long-term social isolation, which is one of the symptoms often associated with anxiety.
The child who does the bullying also can suffer psychological effects. As they become mature, they could feel guilt regarding their treatment of their peers and suffer from depression by blaming themselves or thinking less of their personality. Additionally, many experts believe that those who bully others do so to take attention away from their own perceived flaws.
“A person can have problems with shame and still have high self-esteem, and this is what makes a person act like a bully,” Dr. Mary C. Lamia wrote for Psychology Today. “Their mean behavior toward others keeps their self-esteem high because it takes their own and others’ attention away from the parts of themselves about which they are ashamed.”
The consequences of bullying can be immediate, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 4,600 people between ages 10 and 24 die by suicide each year. Whether or not a child has been bullied significantly affects the likelihood of suicidal thoughts or attempts. According to a study by researchers at Yale University, bullying victims are between 2 and 9 times more likely to consider suicide than those who are not bullied. The CDC also reports that 160,000 kids stay home from school each day out of fear because they are victims of bullying.
Responding to Bullying
If you are a parent of a child who has been bullied, the website BullyingStatistics.org lists some steps you should take to prevent a kid attempting to take their life:
- Take all threats of suicide seriously and seek immediate medical help
- Prevent anyone who has shown signs of suicide from accessing weapons or medications
- Encourage children to discuss the instances when they were bullied and show love and support, reminding them that they are not at fault
- Discuss the bullying events with school authorities and arrange a meeting with the parents of the other involved child
In addition to mental health consequences, anyone who has been involved in bullying could be at risk of developing a substance use disorder. When a child suffers at the hands of bullying, their low self-esteem and struggles for social acceptance could lead to experimenting with drugs or alcohol at a young age. Not only is the victim at risk, but also the child who does the bullying. A study by researchers at Ohio State University that was published on the website DrugFree.org found that high school students who bullied other kids were more than twice as likely to use drugs or alcohol compared to students who did not bully others.
If your child has been involved in bullying, either as the victim or the bully, it is recommended to seek help immediately as they could be at risk of a mental health or substance use disorder. If a substance use disorder does exist, there are services available so that the person suffering can receive the necessary medical attention.
The Recovery Village provides drug and alcohol addiction treatment in several states — including Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Washington — with the care and support that can help young people begin their recovery. Additionally, Next Generation Village is a substance use treatment facility in The Recovery Village network that is specifically for adolescents. At all of The Recovery Village’s locations, therapists and counselors can help young patients uncover any co-occurring mental health disorders possibly caused by bullying. The consequences of ignoring any instances of bullying are far greater than discussing these events with the child, or their parents. Call The Recovery Village for more information about the dangers of bullying and the steps to take if a substance use disorder exists.