How To Stop Bullying When You See It

Updated October 28, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In the United States, statistics indicate that around 20% of kids between the ages of 12 and 18 have experienced bullying. And adult bullying is still prevalent in a variety of contexts, though may appear different than childhood bullying. No matter how old or young you are, it’s important to know how you can help stop bullying when you see it. Many of us agree that bullying is wrong, yet we may not know what to do when it happens.  Because we aren't always trained to handle or navigate bullying, it can seem easier to do nothing than to take action. Here are some tips if you’re ever confronted with bullying.

Struggling With Bullies?

  • Understand The Different Ways Bullying Can Happen

Although we might picture youth when we think of bullying, it doesn’t only affect minors. Some studies say that adult bullying is just as common as childhood bullying. Additionally, bullying isn’t limited to name-calling or talking down to someone,  it can also take the form of rumors, purposeful exclusion, destruction of personal property, cyberbullying, and physical acts.

Friends, co-workers, employers, and other students can all be bullies, though this is by no means an exhaustive list. When you know the different ways bullying can take place, you may be able to better recognize it when it happens to you or someone else.

  • When Safe, Attempt To Separate The Person From The Bully

If you’re able to do so, engage the person who is being bullied. Start an unrelated conversation with them to get them away from the situation (e.g., “Hey, did you get the instructions from our boss earlier? I need help. Can you talk for a minute?”). This can work in scenarios where you and the person being bullied are physically safe. You can then check in with them, ask if they need anything, and help out if possible. For example, if this is taking place in a work environment, you might ask if they want you to go to the human resources department to talk about it with them.

  • Tell Someone Who Can Help

Sometimes people stand around and watch or even record someone being bullied rather than take action. Even when this isn’t the case, someone might know that bullying is happening and ignore the situation. If you see someone being bullied, there are almost always steps you can take to help alleviate the situation. Even if all you’re doing is reporting the behavior, your help can make a big difference. Keep in mind, though, that while you may be able to step in, this isn’t always the best or safest option, especially if the bullying involves violence.

If you are not able to do anything or if it isn’t safe to take direct action, walk away and contact the proper authorities. If you are a student, tell a teacher. If you are an adult, talk to another person who has the power to address the matter.

  • If You Have Power, Use It

Just as it’s crucial to reach out to someone like a professor, boss, or HR professional when you notice bullying, it’s imperative to use that power yourself if you have it. If you’re in a position of authority, you may be able to act in a beneficial way that poses as little risk as possible to the person facing bullying. For example, if you’re a teacher, you have the power to speak with the bully after class, report the incident, or take other appropriate action given the unique circumstances of what you witnessed.

Research shows that some of the best bullying prevention methods  rely on staff and others to create a safe space. For example, it’s important in schools to talk to both the students and the staff about bullying. Create a safe environment and make anti-bullying efforts a priority, no matter where you work.

  • Be Kind To The Person Being Bullied

Experiencing bullying can be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. But, by showing kindness, you may be able to help the victim overcome some of these negative effects. For instance, positive and supportive relationships have been correlated with better mental and physical health. Second, bullying might be less intimidating for the individual if they have someone on their side. You may even make a new friend.

Similarly, if you’re the one being bullied, consider trying to surround yourself with friends and acquaintances in situations where you expect that you might encounter the bully or bullies. This could limit opportunities for the bully to act and provide you with emotional support when you need it.

  • Get Help After The Encounter

Once you have created a safe space and stopped the  bullying, look for ways you can better address the situation so that it can be prevented going forward. This usually means finding people in charge who are equipped to deal with bullying and can ensure this behavior doesn’t happen again. It can be uncomfortable to talk about certain kinds of behavior, but in many circumstances, it is vital; and if it’s handled correctly, it might prevent someone else from experiencing the same or worse.

  • Make An Effort To Play No Part In It

There are times when people let bullying continue without meaning to. For example, you might hear someone make fun of their friend or their partner, and instead of saying anything, you stay quiet. Or you might pretend that you don’t hear a boss saying something out of line, discriminatory, or cruel about an employee. In certain situations, particularly if the individual making those statements is a friend or family member, you might say something like, “That isn’t funny,” or, “That isn’t okay.” This can go a long way toward making the individual realize that this behavior is not acceptable. People don’t always expect to be called out on their behavior, and in some circumstances that might be all that it takes for other people to stand up and help stop the bullying too.

Of course, it’s crucial to mention that there are times when it will not be safe to do this. If a bully is engaging in physical acts of harm, the most important thing is safety. Call for help and monitor the situation so that you will be able to provide information once the proper authority arrives. Prioritize everyone’s well-being over fighting back or engaging with the bully.

How Does Bullying Affect Adults And Children?

It’s important to know what no one deserves to be bullied. Bullying is often a source of trauma, and it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are a number of known effects of bullying, both short and long term, which can include:

  • Decreased engagement and productivity at work and school
  • Heightened risk of depression and anxiety symptoms
  • Greater risk of substance use disorders
  • Higher risk of eating disorders
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Physical health concerns, such as trouble sleeping, tension or pain, and headaches

However, all of these outcomes are treatable, and if addressed, can be improved. To cope with the effects of bullying, try utilizing self-care techniques, finding new environments where bullying isn’t tolerated, making positive connections, and asking for support from medical and mental health providers.

Struggling With Bullies?

Therapy Can Help

Bullying is not the fault of the person who experiences it, but it can have lasting impacts. If you’ve been bullied, it’s possible to move forward. Therapy can help with concerns related to bullying, self-esteem, stress, difficulty at work or school, family issues, and mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, PTSD, and depression. In fact, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is regarded as one of the most effective therapies in addressing the emotional distress caused by bullying. While CBT used to involve visiting a professional’s office, now individuals have access to CBT online. And online therapy has been proven as effective as in-person therapy. Plus, it’s more convenient.

You can quickly and easily find a qualified, licensed therapist to work with online through a platform like BetterHelp. BetterHelp makes it easy to start seeing a provider sooner rather than later, and the licensure of every provider on the platform is verified. Regardless of how you find someone to work with, you deserve to have a positive support system and people around who uplift you.


Bullying is a serious problem in our society, and it affects people of all ages. Those who experience bullying may feel traumatized, and it can negatively impact their mental health. If you witness a bullying incident, there are things you can do to help the person being bullied. And if you’re being bullied, there are resources available to help you overcome emotional distress related to the bullying.

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