Bullying and Mental Health

According to the American Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), Bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents. Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis. Bullying behavior can be physical or verbal. Boys tend to use physical intimidation or threats, regardless of the gender of their victims. Bullying by girls is more often verbal, usually with another girl as the target. Bullying and Mental Health problems have even been reported in online chat rooms, through e-mail, and on social networking sites.

Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Some victims of bullying have even attempted suicide rather than continue to take such harassment and punishment. Children and adolescents who bully thrive on controlling or dominating others. They have often been the victims of physical abuse or bullying themselves. Bullies may also be depressed, angry, or upset about events at school or at home. Children targeted by bullies also tend to fit a particular profile. Bullies often choose children who are passive, easily intimidated or have few friends. Victims may also be smaller or younger, struggle with self-esteem, have depression or anxiety, and have a harder time defending themselves.

Stopbullying.gov suggests that bullying and Mental Health problems may seriously affect the mental health and well-being of children and youth. Parents, teachers, coaches, and other youth-serving adults are in positions where they are able to notice when there are signs of mental distress or bullying behavior.

Latest researches about Bullying and Mental Health

Research indicates that children and youth who are bullied over time are more likely than those not bullied to experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. They also are more likely to be lonely and want to avoid school. There are many ways that parents and youth-serving adults can help prevent or address bullying. Studies showed that children and youth who bully others over time are at higher risk for more intense anti-social behaviors like problems at school, substance use, and aggressive behavior. Parents should pay attention to warning signs that their child may be engaging in bullying behavior, like getting into physical or verbal fights or blaming others for their problems. Bystanders of bullying may also experience mental health effects. Students who witness bullying at school experienced increased anxiety and depression regardless of whether they supported the bully or the person being bullied. Bystanders may experience stress related to fears of retaliation or because they wanted to intervene but did not.

When a parent, trusted adult, or teacher notices that a child or youth seems withdrawn, depressed, anxious, avoids activities that they used to enjoy, or is exhibiting bullying behavior, it’s important to talk about what may be the cause. Parents may find it helpful to talk with a professional social worker, counselor, physician, or psychologist to help address the effects of bullying and to identify protective strategies. They can also work with schools and community organizations to put bullying prevention strategies in place or to address specific bullying incidents or behaviors. Addressing bullying and related mental health concerns early can help prevent harmful negative experiences and keep children and youth moving forward in a positive trajectory at school, with friends, and in their personal development.

What to do your child is bullied by others 

If you suspect your child is bullying others, it’s important to seek help for him or her as soon as possible. Without intervention, bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional, and legal difficulties. Talk to your child’s pediatrician, teacher, principal, school counselor, or family physician. If the bullying continues, a comprehensive evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professionals should be arranged. The evaluation can help you and your child understand what is causing the bullying, and help you develop a plan to stop the destructive behavior.

If you suspect your child may be the victim of bullying ask him or her to tell you what’s going on. You can help by providing lots of opportunities to talk with you in an open and honest way.

It is also important to respond in a positive and accepting manner. Let your child know it is not his or her fault, and that he or she did the right thing by telling you. If your child is aware of someone who is being bullied, encourage him or her to notify someone and get help. Other specific suggestions include the following:

  • Ask your child what he or she thinks should be done. What’s already been tried? What worked and what did not?
  • Seek help from your child’s teacher or the school guidance counselor. Most bullying occurs on playgrounds, in lunchrooms, and bathrooms, on school buses or in unsupervised halls. Ask the school administrators to find out about programs other schools and communities have used to help combat bullyings, such as peer mediation, conflict resolution, and anger management training, and increased adult supervision.
  • Do not encourage your child to fight back. Instead, suggest that he or she try walking away to avoid the bully, or that they seek help from a teacher, coach, or other adults.
  • Help your child practice what to say to the bully so he or she will be prepared the next time.
  • Help your child practice being assertive. The simple act of insisting that the bully leave him alone may have a surprising effect. Explain to your child that the bully’s true goal is to get a response.
  • Encourage your child to be with friends when traveling back and forth from school, during shopping trips, or on other outings. Bullies are less likely to pick on a child in a group.

If your child becomes withdrawn, depressed or reluctant to go to school, or if you see a decline in school performance, additional consultation or intervention may be required. A child psychologist or other mental health professional can help your child and family and the school develop a strategy to deal with the bullying. Seeking professional assistance earlier can lessen the risk of lasting emotional consequences for your child.

The University of Michigan reported that teens who are bullied struggle with long-term mental health issues. Bullying and Mental Health problems can make life miserable in the short term for teens, but its impact can also linger into young adulthood, says a University of Michigan researcher. Much is known about the negative effects of bullying, ranging from depression to poor performance in school, but a new study indicates that bullied teens can suffer long-term mental health problems that last into early adulthood. How these individuals perceive themselves contributes to these outcomes, said study author Janette Norrington, U-M doctoral student in sociology.

Bullying by verbal abuse and peer harassment

The study, which appears in the journal Youth & Society, also indicates that verbal abuse and peer harassment are more harmful than physical victimization or social exclusion. Previous research has shown that youths suffer short-term mental health consequences, but less is known about the negative, long-term impact between the ages 18 to 24. Norrington used longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to examine teen self-concept as a mediator in the relationship between adolescent peer victimization and psychological distress in emerging adulthood. Self-concept, which is the image people have of themselves or self-worth, is a link between teen bully victimization and later mental health. Bullying includes physically harming, making fun of, excluding, and spreading rumors about a person. “Bully victimization damages how people view themselves in adolescence and that negative view can linger into adulthood, contributing to poor mental health,” she said.

Norrington examined the responses of more than 1,400 adolescents in 2002 and 2007, who were questioned about the frequency that classmates hit them and picked on them, had their things (money and lunch) taken, and were left out of friends activities. In 2009 and 2013, as adults, they were asked how often in the past month they felt nervous, hopeless, sad, and worthless. Peer victimization was still associated with higher levels of psychological distress, but the impact lessened among those who had high self-esteem, the study found. Intervention and mental health programs should focus on enhancing the self-concept of adolescent bully victims, Norrington said. One way to do this would be to emphasize peer support to help youth feel valued and develop self-confidence. In addition, adult mental health programs can also address former bully victims’ self-concept and help them process their past peer victimizations to improve their mental health, she said.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Cyberbullying has become an international public health concern among adolescents. The Cybersmile Foundation offers a compilation of helplines:


This article is provided by Dr. Ralph Kueche (Child Psychologist). Dr. Kuechle is a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating children and their families who may be struggling with mood and behavioral issues. Learn more about Dr. Kuechle.