About 20% of students ages 12-18 experience bullying nationwide, and 15% of these students experience cyberbullying. Students experience various types of bullying including being the subject of rumors or lies, being made fun of, physically pushed, verbally assaulted, etc. According to government research, "persistent bullying can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior." Bullying has a direct link to poor student mental health meaning the prevention of bullying should be a main focus for schools.
The State of Bullying
In the past year, there have been countless school bullying incidents. More must be done to prevent bullies from hurting other students mentally and/or physically. For instance, at Severna Park High School a student anonymously air dropped a video to school staff of a student bullying a student with special needs during lunch time. The incident consisted of a bully approaching a table of students with a flyer, shouting racial slurs and calling the victim a "cripple." When the victim moves away from the situation, the bully repeatedly tells him that he is going to physically harm him. In response to the incident caught on video, the school released a statement stating that counselors will be on campus to help students process the incident or any other incident that made them feel unsafe. As school counselors, it’s important to raise awareness of bullying and hold students accountable for how they treat others. Counselors have the power to mitigate bullying on campuses and the safety concerns that come with it.
In another recent bullying incident that gained national attention, Adriana Kuch, a 14-year old girl, committed suicide days after being physically assaulted at school. The physical attack was caught on film and Kuch experienced humiliation and harassment after the bullying incident. Bullying poses real consequences that can be fatal as shown by this tragedy. Teens who are bullied are at risk for serious mental illness as well as suicide. According to licensed forensic psychologist Tristin Engels, "when it's circulated in uncontrolled and unregulated environments like social media, it opens up the victims, families, teachers and communities to more forms of cyberbullying." Online disinhibition is an issue because it means you can cyberbully people on social media without the anonymity, which Adriana was already being subjected to in school and online. Most adults understand the concept of being tied to online comments, but younger teens are less aware of this risk so they are more likely to engage in online bullying behavior. Schools must prioritize teaching students to be kind to each other and how to handle conflict appropriately. And school counselors are uniquely positioned to do just this.
Counselor Intervention: What You Can Do
A good starting point for school counselors to address bullying in schools is by implementing comprehensive bystander training for students. According to Psychology Today, activating bystanders by teaching children how to intervene with confidence is key to stopping bullying because it cultivates a no tolerance policy. The STAC training and strategies are a good start to prevent bullying in schools. STAC stands for Stealing the show, Turning it over, Accompanying others, and Coaching compassion and is a program aimed at teaching K-12 students bystander intervention strategies to defend victims of bullying. The goal of the training is to increase students' abilities to identify bullying, and intervene in bullying situations. School counselors can provide STAC training or partner with other counseling centers to provide training.
Counseling Today research shows that students perceive bullying to be a significant problem compared to school personnel. Counselors can help educate school personnel on bullying and can advocate for funding a comprehensive, school wide program like STAC. At school, counselors can address bullying by being aware of students' participation in bullying. Often being a bully, target or bystander is linked to students' mental health struggles. When young people use aggression and violence to try to find solutions to their problems, counselors can help them find alternative prosocial ways to cooperate with others through cognitive behavioral therapy strategies, for example. Intervening with bullies before they head into a downward spiral of hurting others and themselves can set students up for success, as bullies often have a harder time maintaining healthy relationships and holding a job later in life. As a starting point to mitigate school bullying, school counselors can help students develop alternative and prosocial behaviors to bullying, empower students to intervene with STAC strategies, and develop positive coping skills.
Prioritizing your students' mental health starts with implementing positive prevention strategies. Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help students stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps students when they’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for their 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/schools or by scheduling a meeting with our team.
About the author:
Ginger Freeman (she/her) is an Editorial intern at Neolth and a senior at Santa Clara University studying Psychology, Public Health, and Asian Studies. Once she graduates, she plans to pursue a masters in counseling to become a licensed therapist. She is passionate about making mental health care more accessible and personalized, as well as applying zen theory to traditional psychotherapy. Through starting the conversation around mental health she hopes to reduce stigma and help people feel less alone! Outside of school, she enjoys spending time outside with friends, hot yoga, meditation, and listening to live music.