Bullying can occur to anyone of any age and can have detrimental impacts on mental and physical health. Whether you've experienced bullying, bullied someone else, or witnessed bullying, understanding the impacts of this behavior can help you prevent it.
What Is Bullying? An Overview
Bullying is defined as "unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance." Although this manner of ill conduct is often thought to only occur in elementary, middle, and high school, people of all ages can be the perpetrators, witnesses, or survivors of bullying. According to Do Something, over three million students in the United States are the targets of bullies, which can harm their mental health, often resulting in mental health conditions like depression. While people of all genders experience bullying, girls, and women may be more at risk.
The ascension of technology in the modern world has also created a new avenue for bullies to target others. Cyberbullying occurs when individuals employ the use of the internet and various social media platforms to harm others. This harm can take the form of trolling, sending unkind messages, spreading untrue rumors, doxing, or posting embarrassing photographs or videos to humiliate someone. Group cyberbullying can also occur.
The aftermath of bullying and cyberbullying may be devastating. In the worst cases, survivors of bullying have taken their own lives. Over the past few years, bullying and the problematic aspects associated with this ill-conduct have become more mainstream. More individuals have spoken out and condemned the ongoing mistreatment of others. However, more steps can be taken.
Impacts Of Bullying
The Impacts Of Bullying On Survivors
Bullying survivors are at risk of damaging emotional, mental, physical, and psychological ailments. Low self-esteem, shame, depression, anxiety, and social alienation are a few potential impacts. Additional plights include poor quality of sleep, poor academic performance, bedwetting, altered eating habits, and self-harm.
These impacts can be short or long-term, and many people who experience bullying also struggle with long-term mental illnesses like chronic depression, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal thoughts. Despite these impacts, support is available, and many people who are bullied as children, adolescents, or young adults go on to live successful lives. For many, seeking help and having someone to confide in can be a step toward healing.
The Impacts Of Bullying On Perpetrators
Many individuals may feel that perpetrators of bullying do not experience adverse impacts on their actions. While a few bullies may not have experienced this, researchers have found that many people who partake in bullying are at risk in several areas.
Perpetrators of bullying may be more likely to develop a substance use disorder, engage in truancy, exhibit poor academic performance, and struggle to maintain healthy relationships and friendships. In addition, bullying behaviors may escalate into adulthood and become abusive behaviors. Understanding why certain people choose to mistreat other people can be part of finding treatments and interventions that stop bullying. For this reason, those who bully are often encouraged to reach out for support and talk to someone.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
The Impacts Of Bullying On Witnesses
In many cases, witnesses of bullying may struggle to stand up against it or speak up about what is occurring. They may be afraid of becoming targets or not care that the bullying is occurring. However, witnesses often experience adverse impacts from witnessing the mistreatment of a peer.
Many of those that witness the interactions between perpetrators and survivors of bullying undergo a wide range of emotions. They might feel uncertainty, fear, and guilt. Society often urges people to stand up for others, but doing so in practice can be difficult. For example, children may fear being on the receiving end of the bully's treatment. In some cases, witnesses may worry that speaking up and confronting the perpetrator will make matters worse.
Despite the internal conflicts often engendered by the mistreatment of others, witnesses can make a change by speaking up. Even if they do not talk to the perpetrator themselves, they can report what is occurring to a teacher or another person in power. In these cases, they may save the life of the individual experiencing the maltreatment.
How To Combat Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can be documented and traced, as it occurs online.
If you are a survivor of cyberbullying, document all occurrences. Take screenshots and save them in a location you know how to get into. Although it can be beneficial to block those treating you poorly, documentation can show a pattern and support you if additional steps are taken.
In addition, you might benefit from cutting off all contact with the perpetrator. Many people often want to engage or argue with an individual or group of people online to state their case or defend themselves. However, doing so might make cyberbullying worse. Blocking and reporting the account may be more effective and productive. If a cyberbully creates multiple accounts, starts to follow you, or continues to send messages against your consent, it may be considered harassment or stalking, which is illegal.
If you are experiencing cybercrime, the FBI offers a cybercrime reporting tool that anyone can use anytime.
Bullying is a national epidemic. However, more researchers, non-profits, organizations, and individuals are studying this behavior, documenting its various causes and effects, and working to counteract the many adverse impacts. If the bullying has occurred to you or someone you love, reach out for support. Bullying can have real adverse impacts, including mental illnesses like PTSD. In addition, if you are a perpetrator of bullying or abuse, talking to a counselor may benefit you. Behaviors can be changed, and many forms of therapy are dedicated to changing them.
If you feel shameful about reaching out for support, don't feel safe leaving home, or want to be discreet while meeting with a therapist, you can also consider online therapy. Online counseling can be done from home over the phone, via video, or through live chat sessions with licensed therapists. In addition, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp for adults and TeenCounseling for those aged 13 to 19 offer a match-based system to match you with a therapist meeting your unique needs.
Studies have also found online therapy effective. One study found that online counseling was more effective than in-person therapy for those who had experienced bullying as a child or an adult. As talking to someone online can feel safer than leaving home to meet with someone in person, many bullying survivors may prefer it.
What do you think are the factors of cyberbullying?
Research has also found that certain factors may make people more likely to cyber bully. In 2021, researchers studied 428 adolescents to look for associations between cyberbullying and factors like gender, mental health, and social media addiction. They found that those who spend more time online and have higher levels of social media addiction may be more likely to engage in cyberbullying.
What is the specific topic of cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying, also known as electronic bullying, is a form of bullying that uses technology (like social media or texting) to harass or intimidate others. Unlike physical bullying, which may happen more on school grounds, cyberbullying may also take place outside school property. This may make it harder for school staff to address.
In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed young people across the U.S. to understand their health-related behaviors and experiences. Results showed that an estimated 15.9% of high school students had been bullied online over the previous 12 months.
Although any young person may be affected by cyberbullying, bullying statistics indicate some students may be more at risk than others. In 2015, researchers analyzed a survey of 1,285 middle school students to understand how cyberbullying related to internet use, gender, and sexual orientation. They found that cyberbullying “disproportionately affects” girls and minority students, while more than half of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students reported being cyberbullied.
Although cyberbullying can be a complex issue, several strategies may help to prevent it, including:
- Passing anti-bullying laws tailored to cyberbullying
- Enforcing zero tolerance bullying policies in schools
- Educating students on the facts about bullying
- Encouraging people to come forward if they witness bullying online
Is bullying a risk factor for depression?
According to research, people in bullying situations may be at an increased risk for depression and other mental illnesses. In 2023, researchers analyzed the results of 31 studies to understand the relationship between depression and bullying in children and adolescents. They found that both people who were bullied and perpetrators of bullying were at an increased risk of depressive symptoms.
How does cyberbullying affect your mental health?
Cyberbullying can lead to mental health effects including chronic stress, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. In some cases, cyberbullying may also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What are the social effects of cyberbullying?
Being cyberbullied can lead to loneliness, withdrawal from peers, absence from school, and reduced academic performance.
Those who cyberbully others may also experience social effects. A 2014 literature review analyzed existing studies of the effects of cyberbullying on adolescents, finding that perpetrators of cyberbullying are at an increased risk of aggression, substance use, and criminal behaviors.
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