School Bullying and Its Effect on Mental Health

By October 19, 2019 July 30th, 2020 Blog

Bullying at a young age can have lasting effects on an individual’s mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied on school property in the last year. It is among the most commonly reported discipline problems in public schools, with nearly 12% of public schools reporting that bullying happens at least once a week. It is reported that middle school students have the highest rate of bullying at 22%. Additionally, more than 15% of high school students report being cyberbullied (bullied online) in the last year.

Bullying can have negative short and long-term consequences for both the victim and the bully. While traditional interventions for bullying typically include punishing the bully and helping the victim, both the victim and the bully are likely suffering and would benefit greatly from a concerted effort of support.

Short-Term Effects of Bullying for a Victim

All children are unique and different, and likely to exhibit a variety of different behaviors during or after being bullied. Additionally, with relational aggression on the rise and cyberbullying as easy and accessible as ever, bullying can be ongoing for long periods of time before a student takes steps towards seeking help.

A bullied victim may experience any of the following:

  • Social isolation
  • Feelings of shame
  • Changes in sleep patterns and eating habits
  • Low self-esteem
  • Psychosomatic symptoms (stomachaches, headaches, muscle aches, other physical complaints with no known medical cause)
  • School avoidance and/or poor school performance
  • Symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Bedwetting
  • Higher risk of illness

There are also some symptoms a bully may demonstrate, such as:

  • Poor school performance
  • Increased truancy risk
  • Difficulty maintaining social relationships
  • Increased risk of substance use/abuse

While it may be difficult to understand and empathize with a bully, it is important that parents and school officials recognize that an individual does not bully without reason. Without help, their behavior will continue and potentially become worse as time progresses.

Long-Term Risks of Bullying for a Victim

Without intervention, students being bullied are at risk for any or all of the following:

  • Chronic depression
  • Increased risk of suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Poor general health
  • Self-destructing behavior, including self-harm
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Difficulty establishing trusting, reciprocal friendships and relationships

There are also long-term effects that a bully may experience, including:

  • Risk of spousal or child abuse
  • Risk of antisocial behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Less likely to be educated or employed

A long-term study led by a group of Norwegian scientists investigated the long-term psychological effects of bullying on adolescents. Results of the study indicated that all groups involved in bullying during adolescence, both bullies and victims, experienced adverse mental health outcomes in adulthood. While the victims showed a high level of depressive symptoms in adulthood, both groups experienced an increased risk of psychiatric hospitalization due to mental health disorders.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major Depressive Disorder, also known as depression, is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest and is one of the most common symptoms of bullying. MDD is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States; in 2015, nearly 7% of Americans above the age of 18 experienced at least one episode of MDD.

There are several symptoms associated with MDD, these symptoms include:

  • Consistent feelings of sadness or irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Weight loss or weight gain typically caused by changes in appetite
  • Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and changes in sleep patterns
  • Lack of energy or lethargic

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Some of the most common events that result in PTSD are serious accidents, natural disasters, school bullying, armed robberies, war/combat, and assault.

There are many different symptoms someone with PTSD may experience. In order for someone to be diagnosed with PTSD, however, they do not have to experience all of the symptoms listed. Symptoms include: 

  • Intrusive memories such as recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event, typically through flashbacks and/or nightmares.
  • Avoiding people, places, activities, objects, talking or thinking about the traumatic event.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions such as being easily startled or frightened, always being on guard, engaging in self-destructive behavior, trouble sleeping and/or concentrating, irritability, aggression, and overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame.
  • Negative thoughts about self, other people or the world as well as feelings of hopelessness, detachment, and numbness.

Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event, such as bullying, will experience at least one of the above PTSD symptoms. However, symptoms must last for more than a month to be diagnosed as PTSD. Many individuals develop symptoms within the first three months following a trauma, though symptoms can appear even later.

Not everyone who experiences or witnesses a trauma will experience PTSD. It is important to understand that while not everyone develops PTSD, it is not a sign of weakness.

Early Intervention and Treatment is Critical

Regardless if a student is a bully or a victim of bullying, both can leave lasting scars that can completely alter their character, future, and outlook on the world for the rest of their life if left untreated. Seeking treatment can completely turn someone’s life around after a traumatic event, giving them the chance to get back to the life they had before their trauma.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for both PTS and PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Normally, one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing an individual from enjoying the full life they deserve. Do not let the negative effects of school bullying continue to control your life. There is always hope, and someone is always available to help. Contact ART International Training and Research to learn more about the therapy or find a therapist near you.