An estimated 1 out of 5 students report being bullied at school, and students who experience bullying are twice as likely to experience negative physical and mental health effects. Although you might think bullying refers to a kid pushing another kid in school or insulting a peer, bullying can take many different forms, is more common than people think, and has more severe mental health consequences including higher rates of depression, loss of self-confidence, and increased self criticism and isolation. One of the most common forms of bullying is cyberbullying, which includes spreading mean comments on social media. Reported rates of cyberbullying have more than doubled in the past decade, with reports of cyberbullying being the highest among middle schoolers. The effects of bullying range from affecting the social life, body image, leads to depressive and suicidal thoughts, and trust issues, overall greatly affecting the mental health of students.
Social Effects of Bullying
Students who are affected by bullying go through social consequences, as it affects their current friendships as well as their abilities and confidence to make new friends. A decrease in self-esteem is a direct consequence of bullying, which tends to lead to less confidence in oneself due to feeling unwanted and rejected. Another result of a decrease in self esteem is that it can lead to isolation and feelings of loneliness as one may not feel like they want to be around others, and isolation is a big cause of depression. The effects of loneliness and isolation also lead to general health consequences, physical, mental, and cognitive. Additionally, children who are bullied become more sensitive to social cues of rejection, and even seeing it when it is not there. This greater fear of rejection can make it hard to reach out and maintain friendships, as the victim is constantly misreading signals as well as not reaching out due to a fear of being judged. Being fearful of social situations can lead to students not wanting to go to school, which can also lead to school refusal.
Body Image Effects of Bullying
Bullying can negatively affect body image, as if the bullying is related to commenting on the way one looks, the victim may start to believe what the bully is saying. One common form of bullying is “weight teasing,” where one is bullied based on the way they look. One can even develop an eating disorder due to wanting to change the way they look in order to “fit in” or decrease their chance of being bullied as they think something is “wrong with them” because of comments from a bully. Although bullying itself may not directly lead to an eating disorder, it can lead to an inner negative critique/eating disorder voice, personal body dissatisfaction, as well as depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, and other negative feelings which can all feed into an eating disorder.
Depression and Suicide Effects of Bullying
Children who are victims of bullying are at a much greater risk of developing depression than those who are not, and the consequences can even persist up to 40 years after the bullying started. This increased risk of depression also leads to an increased risk of suicide, with nearly ¼ of tenth graders who reported being bullied also reported a suicide attempt. Additionally, cyberbullying has caused kids to consider suicide more than traditional in person bullying, as hiding behind a screen can lead to meaner, more direct forms of bullying that can be extremely harmful. Not only is bullying a large cause of depression, but also symptoms of anxiety, including the development of social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and generalized anxiety disorder.
Trust Effects of Bullying
Being bullied can lead to trust issues, as it can become difficult to trust people in your life. A development of trust issues is a self-defense mechanism/coping skill in order to protect yourself from being vulnerable to others who can later use this information against you, possibly in the form of bullying. These trust issues developed in school can persist later into adulthood as the fear of abandonment and betrayal can last. Additionally, if your peers act as bystanders, it can lead to the loss of trust in these peers. It is very common for students in school to act as bystanders when experiencing an act of bullying to one of their peers, as they are not educated on how to precede with the situation.
The Role of Schools in Bullying
School staff and educators play a large role in preventing bullying, as well as supporting and intervening when bullying is present. It is necessary for schools to institute rules surrounding bullying, and creating a safe, inclusive, and comfortable environment for all students. Schools should allocate time and resources to bullying-prevention related activities as well as education on intervening. With bullying leading to so many negative consequences, it is critical for schools to make bullying intervention and education a priority. Neolth as well offers many resources for students, as well as an educator platform, which can provide resources and education on bullying and ways that schools can help.
Neolth and the Effects of Bullying
Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help you stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps you when you’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for your mental health journey. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students and teachers alike. You can learn more at neolth.com or sign up today at cloud.neolth.com.
About the Author:
Ali Green (she/her) is the Lead Editorial Intern at Neolth, and a rising undergraduate senior at Emory University. As a student studying psychology, she found a huge passion for mental health. Upon discovering Neolth and then becoming accepted as an editorial intern, she became super excited to be able to bring awareness, education, and resources to students worldwide. She believes that it is important to create more accessible education and support around mental health issues to reduce stigmas and increase understanding. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, graphic design, and reading.