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Bullying and its toll on Youth Mental Health

September 21, 2023

Tell me about youth and mental health—why is it important to address issues like bullying? 

The journey through adolescence is a pivotal phase marked by growth, exploration, and self-discovery. It's during this time that young minds are shaped, laying the foundation for their future. But this journey is not without its challenges. The importance of addressing issues like bullying in youth cannot be understated. Bullying casts a long shadow on mental health, shaping attitudes and behaviors that persist into adulthood. 

What is bullying and how does it impact youth mental health? 

At its core, bullying involves repetitive aggressive behavior aimed at causing harm to another person, creating an imbalance of power. It can include the physical impact of hitting and/or kicking, the verbal impact of teasing and/or name calling, or the social impact of rumours and/or exclusion. This behaviour isn't confined to the schoolyard; it extends to the digital realm through cyberbullying, like sending virtual threats and/or posting rumours online. 

Startlingly, bullying may be more common than people think. A 2018 study found 36 percent of Canadian youth in grades 6-10 had been involved with bullying over the past two months. Of those, 20 percent were bullied, nine percent had been bullied and bullied others, and six percent bullied others.  

The impacts of bullying on youth mental health are profound—not only those who are being bullied, but on bystanders and the bullies as well. Victims may experience a range of negative emotions like fear, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, the stress of bullying may erode self-esteem and may cause feelings of isolation. 

Here are some common impacts of being bullied 

  • Mood disorders, depression and/or anxiety 

  • Low sense of self-worth  

  • Low confidence in social settings and/or lack of social skills

  • Isolation and loneliness 

  • Physical symptoms like stomachaches and headaches

  • Substance misuse

  • Unhealthy relationships

  • Development of learning issues and/or being absent from class 

  • Contemplating or acting on suicidal thoughts 

For the bullies themselves, this behavior can be indicative of underlying issues they might be facing. It's crucial to understand that bullies may also suffer from mental health challenges, and may bully others for reasons that include: 

  • Emotional trauma 

  • Insecurity 

  • A lack of social skills

  • Experience being bullied 

  • A learned behaviour

  • A lack of empathy 

What are some indicators of bullying? 

Recognizing the signs of bullying is a critical step in addressing the issue. While you may not be present in the schoolyard or in their inbox, there are indicators to look for that may signify your youth is experiencing bullying. These signs include 

  • Wanting to stay home instead of going to school in the morning 

  • Physical symptoms of stress, like headaches, stomachaches or trouble sleeping 

  • Loss of friends, change of friends, or a reluctance to spend time with friends 

  • Sudden change in moods or behavior 

  • Physical marks, like bruises or torn clothing 

On the flip side, some signs might indicate that a child is engaging in bullying behavior. These indicators include:

  • Get into physical or verbal altercations 

  • Frequently attend detention or the principal's office 

  • Have new belongings  

  • Increasingly aggressive behaviour

  • Lack empathy or blame others for their problems 

Whether your child is being bullied or the one doing the bullying, intervention may be the key to minimizing the impact on their mental health.  

As an adult, what can I do to address bullying? How can I empower youth to address bullying? 

As adults, we play a pivotal role in nurturing a safe and supportive environment for our youth. Open communication is the cornerstone. Encourage open conversations about their day-to-day experiences, after all, you can’t intervene if you don’t know what’s going on. Alternatively, your children may not offer information if they don’t feel emotionally safe. Create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable sharing their concerns. 

Additionally, educate your children and teenagers about bullying, as well as about creating and maintaining healthy relationships. Teach them empathy, kindness, and the importance of standing up for themselves and others.  

As a parent you can also consider contacting the school if you suspect your child is being bullied or is engaging in bullying behaviour towards others. Although your child might not want you to be involved, it is very important that parents play a role in resolving bullying behaviour. Your child’s school should have a process in place to help mediate this situation and keep your child safe or address problematic behaviours 

When is it time to seek professional help?

There are instances when professional help becomes necessary. If your youth's mental health is deteriorating due to bullying, seeking assistance is essential. Signs of prolonged stress, persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety, changes in sleeping patterns, frequent headaches and self-harm tendencies should never be ignored. It's important to create an environment where the child feels safe to talk about their experiences and their well-being. 

Remember that seeking professional help isn't a sign of weakness—it's a testament to your commitment to your child's mental health. Mental health professionals, like licensed psychologistscan provide the necessary guidance and coping strategies to navigate these challenges.