Many people enjoy a good horror flick every once in awhile, especially around the fall season. While gore, villainy and terror are common denominators of these films, this year’s “scary movies” share other — and often overlooked — themes: loneliness and bullying. “Wish Upon,” “Friend Request” and “It” are just a few films from 2017 that address these issues. Although movies of this genre sometimes receive negative reviews that prompt viewers to choose other options at the theater, the real-life issues in these films should not be ignored. Horror flicks are often fictitious and unrealistic; loneliness and bullying are not.

We might cringe and scream at the sadistic clown or other grisly creatures on the big screen, but the true horror isn’t in the fiction. It’s in the facts. Loneliness and bullying affect thousands of students nationwide every year, which can result in mental health disorders, substance abuse and other issues. The question is, what can we do to prevent the domino effect?

Loneliness and Bullying Facts

  • According to Bullying Epidemic, 280,000 students are physically attacked every month in secondary schools.
  • Bullying can leave victims with anxietydepression, fear and low self-esteem, according to Stop Bullying.
  • A video featured on CBS News explored the issues of loneliness and bullying and stated that they both can have long-lasting health effects on a person.
  • In a 2013 study featured in YouthSight, 43 percent of university students stated they had experienced anxiety, loneliness and feelings of not being able to cope with the responsibilities of college life.
  • Bully victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to YaleNews.


Fiction: Based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel, this remake of the 1990 miniseries of the same name centers on a group of teens who encounter an evil clown referred to simply as “It.” As a shapeshifting demon, It (whose real name is Pennywise) spends his days hiding in sewers and hunting children. Before encountering the clown, the teens are bullied for different reasons, including weight, race and rumors. One of the most memorable bullying scenes involves a boy who is jumped and cut with a knife by a group of older students. The teens are portrayed as outcasts, but when their paths collide, they become close-knit friends connected by their shared enemies: the bullies and It.

Fact: According to lead researcher Rene Veenstra, professor of sociology at the University of Groningen, bullies are very strategic in how they choose their victims. They target the children who are unpopular and appear less likely to defend themselves or be defended by their peers. Although typically thought of as just a fictional, fiendish clown, It uses many of the same tactics that real-life bullies do. He feeds on his victims’ fears like bullies prey on the weaknesses of others. He also uses cunning devices to lure his targets, as bullies do, forcing them into a state of vulnerability before striking.

Fiction: In this fall flick, we meet Marina, a lonely and socially awkward college student who befriends a popular classmate, Laura, on Facebook. The two start communicating online, but when Marina finds out she wasn’t invited to Laura’s birthday dinner, she angrily confronts her on campus. Laura unfriends her on Facebook after the incident, and Marina responds by committing suicide, which she films with her webcam. The video is automatically sent as an online message to Laura and later mysteriously appears on her Facebook page. Now an evil spirit, Marina aims to inflict on Laura the painful loneliness she felt by eliminating her friends, both online and in real life.

Fact: Part of the film’s backdrop involves virtual social connections versus real-life relationships, and how social media can contribute to loneliness. The director emphasizes the number of Marina’s Facebook friends going from zero (before sending Laura a friend request) to one (after the request is accepted) to zero (after Marina is unfriended), and it’s through social media that she learns about Laura’s birthday dinner. But if you were to remove social media from the equation, you’d remove the piercing rejection and betrayal Marina felt, the misinterpretation of a cyber friendship as a real-life friendship, and the mental state that led to her suicide.

In “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness,” the existential psychologist Erich Fromm suggests that “the very physiological and psychological developments which underpin man’s humanity have also created the conditions for loneliness.” Social media can be an example of such a development; while it can positively connect people and encourage friendship, it can also lead to feelings of isolation and rejection.

Fiction: This summer supernatural horror film tells the story of 17-year-old Clare, a bullied and shunned teen whose father, a dumpster-diving hoarder, gives her a Chinese music box he found. She discovers an inscription on the box that says “Seven Wishes.” Unconvinced that her requests will be granted, she wishes for her bullying nemesis to rot. To her surprise, her wish is granted; the bully immediately develops necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease. The wish is then followed by a tragic loss for Clare, but it doesn’t deter her from the longing to have a life void of rejection, loneliness and bullying. So the wish-making continues, along with the tragedies.

Fact: A teen’s desire to be accepted by their peers can be very powerful, leading to poor choices. The film portrays these “poor choices” as wishes granted for the price of a life, but in reality, these bad decisions can involve misusing drugs or alcohol. Such behaviors can lead to an array of problems, including unprotected sex, substance abuse and addiction. Teens think about the risks and rewards of their actions and behaviors when making decisions, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (NIDA). However, unlike adults, they’re more likely to ignore the risks in favor of the reward.

How You Can Help

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” These were the words of Edmund Burke, an author and philosopher, and they still ring true today, especially when it comes to loneliness and bullying. These issues are pervasive in today’s society, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about them. Here are a few ways you can help your peers, classmates or anyone else you see being bullied or ostracized:

  • Befriend Them. Many students who are bullied are also lonely and lacking friends, and sometimes having companions is all it takes for bullying to stop. If you know someone who’s being bullied or appears lonely, make an effort to befriend them. Start by simply saying hello. Being friendly in this way can make people feel more valued, boosting their self-esteem. If you constantly see someone sitting alone, invite them to sit with you, or ask if you can sit next to them. Once you’ve introduced yourself, try to get to know the person more by asking questions about hobbies, pets and family, and try to find some common interests.
  • Stand Up for Them. If you see someone being bullied, do what you can to safely intervene, even if you don’t know them. Although this may be easier said than done, it’s certainly not impossible. Sometimes all you have to do is speak up and firmly tell the bully to stop for the tormenting to cease. You may want to also consider offering to walk with the person somewhere if you notice the bullying happening at certain places and times. If your efforts fail, or if you’re concerned about repercussions in intervening, tell a teacher or another adult in authority who can help.
  • Be an Ambassador on the “Sit With Us” App: This app was created in 2016 by Natalie Hampton when she was a junior in high school, due to her own struggles with loneliness and rejection at lunch time. “I was completely ostracized by all of my classmates, and so I had to eat lunch alone every day,” she told Audie Cornish of “All Things Considered.” She felt this made her a target for bullying; she said a bully once threatened her with a pair of scissors and made fun of her for tripping in the hall. To prevent others from feeling lonely and bullied, she created the free lunch-planning “Sith With Us” app. Students can install the app and sign up to be ambassadors, which allows them to host an “Open Lunch” on their campus and invite others to join them at their table. This then allows others with the app to see the invitation and sit with them without fear of rejection.

No one should have to experience loneliness or bullying, especially in settings saturated with people. Don’t be a bystander. If you witness bullying or suspect someone is feeling lonely, do what you can to help, because these issues can easily contribute to mental health disorders and substance abuse. If you know someone who’s struggling with these issues, call The Recovery Village to speak with someone who can help.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.