Bullying and Mental Health

TODAY, after an email from a young man, I would like to talk about bullying, a topic that I have actually been actively working on for a few months.

Many of us see, experience or even participate in bullying daily, sometimes without even knowing that it’s happening.

Bullying occurs when people try to overpower, influence, intimidate or force others into doing things- it is always unwanted, often repeated, and can be physical, verbal, or emotional.
Bullying does not only happen to children in a classroom- it occurs among people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and statuses and it happens when there is a perception of an imbalance of power. I’ve met many people who were unsure if specific actions were considered bullying, so I will lay this out clearly.

Bullying can be physical which involves hurting a person or their possessions. For example a physical attack such as hitting, pushing, etc., or breaking someone’s belongings, destroying someone’s property, stealing, etc. Bullying does not usually begin with the physical, but rather evolves into it from emotional and verbal abuse.

Verbal bullying includes threats, teasing/name-calling, etc. This is the most common type of bullying and has longer-lasting effects than any other type. Social bullying involves purposely excluding someone, spreading rumours, cyber-bullying, etc. Cyberbullying involves any kind of technological device, including phone calls, texts, emails, or social networking sites such as Facebook or Instagram. Cyberbullying is the type I see most of all and for younger generations, it is the most undetected as there is usually a lack of parental supervision on social media.

If you are being cyberbullied, I want to urge everyone to contact the Cyber Crime Unit located in the CID headquarters. They have actively and empathetically aided the community in this societal issue.

Bullying is not a rite of passage- something that everyone must go through once in their life. It is a cruel form of interaction with severe short and long-term mental health consequences.

It is easy to see and understand the effects of bullying on its victim. A bullying victim often feels afraid, ashamed, depressed, weak, isolated, lonely, and lacks self-esteem. He/she is usually afraid and unwilling to attend school or work. This results in poor academic performance, high-stress levels, anxiety, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities which causes further isolation, social exclusion, aggression/rage, and self-hatred – all of which can result in various forms of self-harm.

Individuals who are bullied are also more likely to have trouble eating and sleeping and use excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol. They are more likely to have physical ailments and psychosomatic symptoms such as head and stomach aches. If the bullying is severe, anxiety disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts can develop.
It causes a cycle of violence as research on the adolescent years of famous serial killers reports consistent bullying.

Bullying also literally changes brain structure. An interesting brain scan study by Erin Quinlan which examined the brain of teenagers found that those who were being bullied had lower volume in two brain areas- the caudate which processes learning, memory and decision making, and the putamen which regulates movement. This means that bullying actually affects normal brain development.

For those wondering, bullying also has severe negative consequences for the bully. Firstly, it is important to understand why bullying occurs in the first place. Much research has shown that envy, resentment, and projection are the main causes of bullying. Bullies usually have low self-esteem, forcing them to want others to feel low. By demeaning others, bullies feel empowered that they are now shining a light on someone else’s misery so their own can be undetected.

People who experience symptoms of depression, poor academic performance, high aggression, and personality disorders are also more likely than the average person to become a bully. Let’s not forget the cycle of bullying, that many people bully because they are being bullied elsewhere. A bully will further experience difficulty in forming and keeping healthy relationships, increased substance use and abuse, and have higher chances of school drop-out, issues with the law, and unemployment. One study showed that those who were bullies as children were more likely to be members of gangs and carry weapons.

What to do when there is bullying?
As always, prevention is the best route. Hold seminars/campaigns and educate individuals on the harms of bullying. Tell your story as your voice is important.
Step up and say something if you see it happening! Bystanders play a major role in bullying as well. Bullying can occur in an isolated place, yes, but typically it happens when other people are around as the bully mostly needs an audience. It can be difficult and maybe even dangerous to step in but you do not have to do this on your own.

If there is a complaint to you about bullying, keep it confidential. I’ve seen this too many times in schools and workplaces where the person who made the complaint is named. This is not helpful and just increases their chances of becoming a victim.

How many of us make fun of people without even noticing or simply thinking it is harmless? We need to pay attention to our behaviour and how it affects others (and ourselves). It is so prominent that I truly believe that if you are not being bullied, you’re probably the bully and you probably don’t even know it. Pay close attention to your words and actions!
Thanks for reading! Please continue writing to caitlinvieira@gmail.com and let me know what you want to talk about.

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