The Enduring Mental Health Effects of Bullying
Bullied Children Can Face Depression, Other Mental Health Issues, That Follow Them Until They Are Adults
Like many young teens, Emma (last name withheld), an Italian-born girl raised in the UK and now living in Malaysia, faced relentless bullying in high school.
A falling out with her best friend, who chose to join a more popular crowd, unleashed a torrent of cruelty upon Emma.
“Pretty much straight away they started being mean to me. Name-calling, threats, acts of physical violence, being humiliated. They said I was weird, stupid, ugly, smelly, to go back to Italy, and so forth. Unfortunately, it all got too much, and I was unable to attend school,” Emma shares.
“I had developed severe anxiety and was put on medication. After that, I went to two more high schools, but my attendance was low because I was too sick to go. The anxiety stayed with me, along with bouts of depression, and I still take medication to this day.”
Childhood is supposed to be a time of joy and exploration, but for many like Emma, it becomes a nightmare due to the prevalence of bullying.
Research indicates that over 20% of adolescents in the United States alone experience some form of bullying during their school years, which can have far-reaching consequences for their mental health.
Academic studies have consistently demonstrated that the victims of childhood and teenage bullying are highly susceptible to developing severe mental health issues, with depression being one of the most prevalent outcomes.
A longitudinal study by Copeland followed a group of adolescents over several years and found that those who experienced frequent bullying were nearly three times more likely to develop depression later in life compared to their non-bullied peers.
Bullying inflicts deep emotional wounds, shattering victims’ self-esteem and sense of identity. The constant barrage of criticism and ridicule can lead to feelings of worthlessness and shame.
Victims internalise the negative labels hurled at them, resulting in a distorted self-image. The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology published a study in 2015 highlighting the strong association between childhood bullying and subsequent self-esteem issues, which in turn contribute to depression and anxiety in adolescence and adulthood.
Social isolation is one of the most distressing consequences of bullying. As peers distance themselves, victims are left feeling alienated and rejected.
Prolonged social isolation can have dire consequences for one’s mental health. A study published in Development and Psychopathology by Holt revealed that bullied individuals often face difficulties in forming meaningful relationships, leading to a sense of loneliness that perpetuates depressive feelings.
Childhood bullying can set off a vicious cycle, with anxiety and depression feeding into each other. As victims experience intense emotional distress, they become more prone to developing anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety or social anxiety.
A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teenagers who had been bullied were at a higher risk of developing both depression and anxiety disorders concurrently, exacerbating their overall mental health burden.
Bullying’s toll extends beyond the psychological realm, leaving a lasting impact on the brain’s development. Neurobiological studies have shown that chronic stress caused by bullying can lead to alterations in brain structures associated with emotional regulation, memory, and decision-making.
These changes may persist into adulthood and contribute to the development of mood disorders, as evidenced by a study in JAMA Psychiatry (2015).
Acknowledging the gravity of the issue, mental health professionals, educators, and policymakers have been diligently working to implement interventions aimed at preventing and addressing childhood bullying.
School-based anti-bullying programs, therapy, and support groups are among the strategies deployed to assist victims in their journey to recovery.
The scars of childhood and teenagehood bullying run deep, profoundly impacting an individual’s mental health. Academic studies consistently underline the severe consequences of bullying, with depression standing out as one of the most significant risks.
The path to healing from such traumas can be long and challenging, but with increased awareness, support, and early interventions, we can strive to break the chains of this cycle and foster a safer, more nurturing environment for future generations.
Together, we must endeavour to ensure that no child’s laughter is silenced, and their mental well-being is safeguarded from the lasting shadows of bullying.