The Relationship Between Bullying And Depression, And Effects On Mental Health

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Bullying and depression may be linked in some cases, and abusive behavior can happen to anyone, regardless of age, and can have long-term effects, such as PTSD and depression. Studies show that it can also cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

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Bullying may be affecting you or someone you love

Because abusive behavior can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health consequences, it may be valuable to learn how to identify examples of bullying and implement strategies to stop it on a global scale.

What is bullying? 

You may see this behavior depicted in media as occurring 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 abusive behavior. You might have also experienced it as a teen or child yourself. 

Whether you were a survivor or a bystander, bullying may have been a factor in your childhood. However, it 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 might target intelligence, appearance, or behaviors. Adults, children, and adolescents 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 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, and ridiculed for any reason. It might be an isolated incident and can also 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, and social pressure by bullying or being unkind. It can be important to note that abusive behavior stemming from ignorance and lack of understand is not justified.

Regardless of the cause of bullying, it can have a significant impact on the individual who is targeted (and the perpetrator), such as depression.

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Links between depressive symptoms & 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* 

Being bullied carries a risk of depression and 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 and help than those who didn't. 

How to get outside support for bullying and depression

Bullying and depression may require outside support. Standing up to a bully and attempting to stop it alone may carry a greater risk than other options. If a bully is in a position of power, it could have consequences for your school and job performance. You might choose to reach out for support for depression and abuse 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 about treating depression.

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Bullying may be affecting you or someone you love

Counseling for abuse or 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. By connecting with a counselor, you may find that you can stop bullying from continuing and move forward with confidence.

Takeaway

Bullying is a serious occurrence that can have mental health consequences. If you or someone you know is being bullied, consider reaching out for support, whether to your parents, a friend, or another person you can trust. Bullying prevention programs and counseling provided by mental health professionals can be valuable options for those seeking help with bullying. Take the first step toward freedom from bullying and reach out to BetterHelp today.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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