The Relationship Between Bullying and Depression: The Effect on Mental Health

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated August 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Bullying and depression may be linked in some cases. Although bullying may be seen as an action that only affects children or a childish pastime, bullying can occur in anyone's life, regardless of age, and can have lasting impacts, such as PTSD from bullying. Studies show that it can also cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Because bullying can lead to adult or adolescent depression, anxiety, and other mental health consequences, it may be valuable to learn how to combat bullying, identify examples of bullying, and implement strategies to stop bullying on a global scale.

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Bullying May Be Affecting You Or Someone You Love

What Is Bullying? 

You may see bullying behavior depicted in media as occuring in a school-yard setting or only to those under 18. For example, you might have seen depictions of bullying through the TV show 13 Reasons Why or the movie Mean Girls, which documents teenage bullying. You might have also experienced bullying as a teen or child yourself. 

Whether you were a bully, a survivor, or a bystander, bullying may have been a factor in your childhood. However, bullying is not necessarily limited to a school setting. Adults can bully other adults, and the effects of bullying in adulthood can be as severe as the ones experienced during childhood bullying. 

Bullying might target intelligence, appearance, or behaviors in a school setting. A child or adult might be bullied for being "different" or having a disability or mental health condition. Additionally, people might be bullied because of their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. All forms of bullying can also be seen in adulthood; many people may experience bullying or hate crimes in the workplace or in their personal lives. The internet can make bullying more prevalent. Even if you avoid individuals at work, school, or in person, they might post about you, send messages, or harass you through wide-scale "canceling campaigns."

This behavior isn't necessarily limited to physical bullying. Bullying occurs when an individual is targeted, picked on, or ridiculed for any reason. It might be an isolated incident or happen habitually over time. 

Why Do People Bully?

There are many reasons why people might choose to bully others. Causes of bullying can be insecurity, low self-esteem, or jealousy of the person they are targeting. They might participate in bullying because their friends are or because they see it happening online or around them daily. 

Individuals who bully or act unhealthily toward others might boost their self-esteem by seeing another person feel hurt. They could feel powerful when their actions have made someone else feel sad or anxious. Bullies might act out by spreading rumors, encouraging others to ostracize their target, or employing a combination of gossip and intimidation. Group bullying may occur through "canceling" or long-term digital campaigns against an individual online. Or it may occur in group settings like a workplace or school. 

People might also feel uncomfortable with what they do not understand. For example, bullying based on a disability or mental health condition can be common in school settings. If children and adolescents notice that someone looks different than them or acts differently, they might react to their fear, unease, or social pressure by bullying or being unkind. 

Regardless of the cause of bullying, it can have a significant impact on the individual who is targeted. 

Links Between Depression And Bullying

Bullying is linked to depression and other mental health conditions. Common signs that an individual is being regularly subjected to ridicule and mistreatment can include low self-esteem, feeling down, or losing interest in previously enjoyed activities. Children, teens, and adults can be diagnosed with depression.

Symptoms of depression include: 

  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Feeling unable to sleep or sleeping more often 
  • Feeling worthless, hopeless, or down often 
  • Not enjoying previously enjoyed hobbies
  • Physical symptoms like headaches or chronic pain 
  • Boredom
  • Crying
  • Lack of concentration or difficulty focusing at work or school 
  • Substance use, in some cases
  • Loneliness 
  • Thoughts of suicide* 

*If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support.

Being bullied carries a risk of suicide. It is so prevalent that the CDC has released information on how to prevent suicide caused by bullying. In these cases, suicide prevention can be necessary. However, there is hope. In 2020, 11 million individuals considering suicide did not attempt or create a plan. Another recent study showed that those who had suicidal ideation were more likely to seek support than those who didn't. 

How To Get Outside Support  

Bullying and depression may require outside support. Standing up to a bully or attempting to stop it alone may carry a greater risk than other options. If a bully is in a position of power, it could cause consequences on your school or job performance. You might choose to reach out for support through the following methods: 

  • A helpline
  • Your parents
  • Peer bullying prevention groups 
  • In-person or online counseling 
  • A school counselor 
  • A work-provided mental health professional

Individuals experiencing bullying and depression may also require medical or therapeutic attention. Depression is a mental health condition that impacts a person's brain chemistry and can affect how they function. Depression is treatable with the correct treatment strategy. Reach out to a counselor, doctor, or psychiatrist to learn more.

Bullying May Be Affecting You Or Someone You Love

Counseling Support For Bullying and Depression

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or have been experiencing bullying, you're not alone. Support is available through many types of professional counseling, including in-person, online, and school and workplace therapy. You can have an open conversation with a licensed therapist through a variety of mediums, including phone, video, and live chat sessions.

Additionally, studies indicate that online therapy is as effective as in-person therapy and that it can be incredibly effective in treating symptoms of depression, PTSD, or stress in those who have been bullied in the past.


Bullying is a serious occurrence that can have mental health consequences. If you or someone you know is being bullied, reach out for support. Bullying prevention programs and counseling provided by mental health professionals can be valuable options for those seeking guidance.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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