Bullying and How it Affects Our Health

By: Francesca Cocchiarale

Edited by: Bridget Salice

 Intro

 According to current statistics, 1 in 3 students are bullied at school, while around 20% of high school students are cyberbullied (cite https://americanspcc.org/our-voice/bullying/statistics-and-information/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAgf3gBRDtARIsABgdL3k9B2S5TtH6bX8Vf-amoE_b6tU7dGh46yEzA1a4aqoTyLUa0xFBsH0aAvNTEALw_wcB). As someone who was bullied incessantly during grade school, this has always been an interesting topic of discussion. Though I never thought I was truly affected by how some of the people in my grade treated me, I subconsciously carried these negative words into my high school years, where it affected both my self-confidence and my self-esteem. Many of my friends have also been bullied, speaking to the epidemic that has persisted throughout the United States and the world. Bullying in any form impacts both the individual receiving harsh comments/threats AND the family of the individual being bullied. Bullying comes in many shapes and forms and the prevalence of it in today’s society, both in academia and in the workplace, is quite appalling. Here, I attempt to explore different types of bullying, and how it psychologically affects the individual on the receiving end. Having basic knowledge of this information will allow others to be aware of how false the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is in today’s world.

 Types of Bullying

 Many people have one image in their head when they hear the word “bullying”: an aggressive, dominant child tormenting a small, timid individual. This stereotype of bullying is true in many circumstances, but there is a plethora of situations in which this is not the only case. Here are some examples of what bullying can look like:

  • Physical Bullying. This is one of the main types of bullying found in schools, where physical aggressions take place and people can get seriously hurt. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice reported that approximately 6% of students in high school experience threats and physical violence with the involvement of different weapons in school (cite https://meganmeierfoundation.org/statistics/?gclid=Cj0KCQiApILhBRD1ARIsAOXWTztLsCuZjtx9SkYTJoaZhU9kXadwiT12BXQxFrxzj2lFi3Jys_FDsxYaAsksEALw_wcB). More extreme cases of physical bullying are reflected in America’s struggle to control gun ownership, where individuals that are still in high school can easily gain access to guns.
  • Verbal Bullying. This type of bullying can be found in most settings, including grade school, high school, and college. Verbal abuse is especially common when targeting minorities or the LGBTQ+ community – around 85% of students that identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum have been verbally harassed inside and outside of school where there are not many anti-discrimination laws that protect them (cite https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/lgbt-youth-bullying-press-release/). This was actually one of the methods that bullies used to target me as a child and teen, and many others experience this in their lifetime.
  • As someone that owns various social media accounts and follows many people, both famous and non-famous, I constantly see cyberbullying in the comments of pictures and status updates. People comment extremely harsh phrases and words on pictures displaying the happiness of another person, and it leaves me confused as to why people feel the need to comment in the first place. Being able to hide behind a vague username with no identity allows people to unleash their inner frustrations and comments on others, making it extremely easy for people to target others without getting in trouble. Around 38% of girls in grade school and high school have reported being bullied through online mediums, over twice the amount that boys experience, displaying how widespread this specific type of bullying can be with the use of technology (cite https://www.justsayyes.org/bullying/brutal-boys-vs-mean-girls/).

Indirect and Social Bullying. These types of bullying go hand-in-hand and involve the following characteristics: lying and spreading rumors, ignoring someone and involving others to ignore them, mimicking or mocking, damaging someone’s trust through social situations, and treating someone as if they aren’t meant to belong anywhere (cite https://www.ncab.org.au/bullying-advice/bullying-for-parents/types-of-bullying/). To me, this was even worse than being verbally bullied, since I was led to believe that the people I would hang out with were my ‘friends.’ In reality, they gossiped about me and used my presence as a way to exclude me with every chance they could get. This type of bullying makes you feel inadequate and inferior in comparison to those around you, which can eventually lead to exclusion and loneliness.

Workplace Bullying. This is a less discussed type of bullying, though it is being addressed more now than ever before. This type of bullying consists of the following objectives: offensive behaviors or conduct (sexual assault, verbal abuse, threatening behavior, etc.), work interference that might lead to being fired or social sabotage, and work isolation reflective of indirect bullying (cite https://www.thebalancecareers.com/workplace-bullying-bullying-facts-and-figures-2164325). This type of bullying is unfortunately on the rise, in which many people feel entitled to target others for their personal and malicious gain. The Workplace Bullying Institute found that women were mostly the victim of this type of bullying: 70% of bullies were men and 65% of women were the individuals that were targeted (cite https://www.thebalancecareers.com/who-is-a-workplace-bully-s-target-2164323). Racial minorities are also targeted in this situation, which can lead to more complex cases of discrimination that impact the targeted individuals to the extent that they do not feel safe in their work environment.

 The Emotional Results of Being Bullied

 Bullying not only results in short-term negative feelings of the targeted individual, it also leads to long-term effects that impact the psychological functioning of the victim. Here are a few ways people are affected by bullying:

  • Chronic Stress. Stress hormones are produced within the body to assist in functioning in situations where the mind and the body are in a state of stress. The repeated elevation of stress hormones in a person’s body can lead to chronic stress, in which the body is constantly working to produce cortisol, a long-term stress hormone. Studies have found that girls and boys who are bullied have much higher elevations of cortisol than those classmates that are not bullied (cite http://www.brainfacts.org/Thinking-Sensing-and-Behaving/Childhood-and-Adolescence/2015/Bullying-and-the-Brain). Chronic stress can lead to the risk of engaging in more harmful behaviors, such as the use of drugs and alcohol. Additionally, research shows that there is a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression in those who are impacted by bullying.
  • Depression and Anxiety. As mentioned in the last point, bullying can lead to the development of social or generalized anxiety as well as depression. Not only is mood affected, self-esteem and self-confidence are greatly decreased, leading children and teens to internalize a negative attitude about themselves and the world around them. These diagnoses could eventually lead to self-harm or suicide and studies show that around 17% of the children-aged and teenaged population have committed self-harm because of bullying (cite https://meganmeierfoundation.org/statistics/?gclid=Cj0KCQiApILhBRD1ARIsAOXWTztLsCuZjtx9SkYTJoaZhU9kXadwiT12BXQxFrxzj2lFi3Jys_FDsxYaAsksEALw_wcB).
  • Inability to Form Relationships as Easily. Many children and teens that have been bullied tend to isolate themselves from their peers or learn not to trust those around them. A combination of the behavior inflicted upon them by bullies and the isolation many feel in these situations might lead to social anxiety, or an inability to properly socialize with their peers. This not only affects how a student socially grows as an individual, it also affects other aspects of their life, including academics and general success.
  • Physical Health Complications and Complaints. Coinciding with the hormonal and physical imbalance stress places on the body, many of those who are bullied also experience health complications, in which general physical discomfort persists, especially when being bullied. Some symptoms include: stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, panic attacks, inability to sleep, loss of appetite (leading to probable weight loss), and nightmares (cite https://www.pathstonementalhealth.ca/bullying/effects-bullying).

How to Combat Bullying

There are a variety of ways to stop bullying in its tracks, but here are some reliable methods that have helped me in past situations:

  • If you see something, say something. Being a bystander during a time where you witness someone being bullied is as maleficent as bullying the person in the first place. Stand up to the person choosing to bully the victim by safely entering the situation and helping the victim either get away from the situation or by telling the bully why his words are unwarranted. If using the “direct approach” method is not your strong suit, try to physically steer the victim away from the situation, or retrieve someone that could end the bully’s tirade. For example, if you are in a school and you start to see a fight, grab a teacher or faculty member immediately in order to make sure that someone doesn’t get hurt in the end.
  • Be aware and ask if someone is okay/how they are doing. After being bullied for years, I entered high school with a new perspective of mental health and how others should treat one another. Though I was shy and afraid of confrontation, if one of my classmates looked sad or tired, I made an effort to ask how they were doing because no one did that for me during the time that I was bullied. Showing someone that you care can go a long way and help them feel better about themselves and their situation.
  • Engage in self-care and positivity-based activities geared towards your mental health. People that thrive on bullying others are able to detect the worst insecurities in other people. As someone that has always carried a little extra weight, I was bullied all of the time for being “fat” and “ugly”. At first, I believed them since I was not as confident at the time – who is fully confident in 6th grade? Kudos to you if you were! One activity that helped me get through this time and ignore most of the hateful comments being thrown my way was engaging in positive self-care. For example, I would write in a journal every night about what I was thankful for in my life, making sure to focus on my strengths. This helped me to see how strong and loved I was, and it allowed me to step up to my bullies. Being able to take a step back and remember that the people bullying you do not really know you or your character will allow you to see these comments as flawed in their ability to define you. Though it is WAY easier said than done, being positive and building self-confidence through self-care will help in dealing with negative situations like these.

Conclusion

Though there have been a multitude of movements to decrease the prevalence of bullying, the actual practice of different types of bullying has never ceased to grow. Taking a stand against bullying and recognizing how crucial mental health is on different sides of the spectrum – the victims, the bullies, and the bystanders – is one of the first steps in working to end this vicious cycle of bullying in today’s society. If you are currently being bullied or feel threatened by others in certain situations, don’t be afraid to reach out to others or to health professionals to assist you in working towards a better environment. Here is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for serious concerns as well: 1-800-273-8255 (cite https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/).

 

Citations

Bates, Mary. “Bullying and the Brain.” BrainFacts.org, BrainFacts.org, 30 Apr 2015, http://www.brainfacts.org/Thinking-Sensing-and-Behaving/Childhood-and-Adolescence/2015/Bullying-and-the-Brain

“Bullying Statistics & Information.” American SPCC, American SPCC, 2018, americanspcc.org/our-voice/bullying/statistics-and-information/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAgf3gBRDtARIsABgdL3k9B2S5TtH6bX8Vf-amoE_b6tU7dGh46yEzA1a4aqoTyLUa0xFBsH0aAvNTEALw_wcB.

Covington, Michelle. “Just Say YES » Brutal Boys vs. Mean Girls.” Just Say YES, Just Say YES, 2018, http://www.justsayyes.org/bullying/brutal-boys-vs-mean-girls/.

Dowd, Rachel. “LGBT Youth Experiences Discrimination, Harassment, and Bullying in School.” Williams Institute, The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, 26 Nov. 2018, williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/lgbt-youth-bullying-press-release/.

Kane, Sally. “Traits and Characteristics of Workplace Bullies and Their Targets.” The Balance Careers, The Balance Careers, 21 Oct. 2018, http://www.thebalancecareers.com/who-is-a-workplace-bully-s-target-2164323.

Kane, Sally. “Workplace Bullying: Facts and Figures.” The Balance Careers, The Balance Careers, 15 May 2017, http://www.thebalancecareers.com/workplace-bullying-bullying-facts-and-figures-2164325.

“Statistics.” Megan Meier Foundation, MEGAN MEIER FOUNDATION, 2018, meganmeierfoundation.org/statistics/?gclid=Cj0KCQiApILhBRD1ARIsAOXWTztLsCuZjtx9SkYTJoaZhU9kXadwiT12BXQxFrxzj2lFi3Jys_FDsxYaAsksEALw_wcB.

“Types Of Bullying | National Centre Against Bullying.” NCAB, National Centre Against Bullying, 2018, http://www.ncab.org.au/bullying-advice/bullying-for-parents/types-of-bullying/.

“What Are the Effects of Bullying?” Pathstone Mental Health, Pathstone Mental Health, 7 Nov. 2012, www.pathstonementalhealth.ca/bullying/effects-bullying

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