When we think about a child being bullied, it’s easy to see the physical damage inflicted, through cuts and black and blue marks, even a bruised ego. But the mental health damage caused by being a victim of bullying can often times go unseen, even though it can be the most devastating damage done.
Mental Health Effects of Bullying
As children internalize the harmful effects of bullying, several mental health issues can develop.
1. Stress and Anxiety-
When a child is a victim of bullying, their body can go into lasting, low-level stress. When this happens their nervous system remains active and they can go into stress overload. When their body cannot reset or return to a normal state, on-going stress can lead to exhaustion, a weakened immune system, anxiety or panic attacks, headaches, stomach aches, and chest pains. Emotional stress can cause irritability and moodiness or feelings of sadness.
The National Institute of Health has reported that depression is as common among victims of cyber-bullying than among victims of traditional bullying. As cyber-bullying is usually done anonymously and without witness, the victims can feel even more isolated or helpless. If a victim of bullying is suffering from depression, they may begin to lose interest in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed or begin to exhibit decreased energy, sleep or eating disturbances or chronic aches and pains.
3. Self-Harm or Harm to Others-
Bullying can also lead to suicidal thoughts in its victims, as they begin to feel that there is no other solution to the physical or emotional abuse they are facing. Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center found a connection between being bullied and suicidal thoughts, with some studies citing that bullying victims are two to nine times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than other children. Even the perpetrators of bullying- the bullies themselves- are more likely to be depressed and to have thoughts of suicide than average youth.
Additionally, high school bullying victims are twice as likely to bring a weapon to school and stopbullying.gov reports that 12 out of 15 school shootings that took place in the 1990s were done by individuals with a history of being bullied.
If Your Child is Being Bullied
It’s no longer acceptable to view bullying as a part of growing up or something that will eventually work itself out. If your child or a child you know is being bullied, take the following steps:
- Listen to and focus on the child. Show that you want to help but understand that it can be hard for them to talk about it.
- Ensure that the child knows that bullying is not his/her fault.
- Report the bullying to the teacher, principal or organization and work together for a resolution to protect the bullied children.
- Involve a mental health professional if the child exhibits any of the mental health effects of bullying outlined above.
- Be persistent. The problem may not end overnight and you need to provide consistent support for the child.