Bullying can affect everyone - those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying.
There is plenty of research which suggests that bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, self harm and even suicide. Bullying creates a culture of fear and has a negative impact on everyone involved. Being bullied can seriously affect a person’s physical, emotional, academic and social well-being. Many sufferers of bullying lack confidence, feel bad about themselves, have few friends and spend a lot of time alone.
Bullying has detrimental effects on health, wellbeing and learning. It can make the victims feel lonely, unhappy and frightened. It’s not just the individual being bullied who is affected. Most individuals say they don’t like seeing bullying around them, be it at school or work or home as it makes them feel worried and uncomfortable. Additionally, those who bully others are also more likely to have problems and be unhappy.
This piece will focus on looking at the impact bullying has on the 3 main parties involved, the person being bullied, the person bullying and the bystanders.
The ones who are Bullied
Being bullied can affect everything about an individual on the receiving end ranging from how they see themselves, their friends, environment, and their future. Those who are bullied often experience low self-esteem that may last a lifetime, shyness, loneliness, physical illnesses, and threatened or attempted self-harm. Bullying is a very stressful ordeal, one that many people find it hard to speak about. Those being bullied continually ask why me? They may feel ashamed and embarrassed that they are not standing up to the bully and deal with what is happening to them.
Individuals who are bullied can experience negative physical, social, emotional, academic, and mental health issues. Additionally, those who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood and lead to more serious Mental Health concerns.
They are also likely to display high levels of emotion that indicate vulnerability and low levels of resilience, avoid conflict, feel vary or suspicious of others and be socially withdrawn. Individuals who have been bullied may also become unable to form trusting, healthy relationships with friends or partners in the future.
When it comes to students being bullied, some may even miss school, withdrawal from social interactions and participation, see their marks drop or even leave school altogether because they have been bullied. A lower attendance linked to feeling unsafe in the school environment can also lead to decline in attendance and academic outcomes. A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.
The ones who bully others
Bullying also affects the individual engaging in the act itself, that is, the so-called bully. Individuals who engage in bullying others are more likely to struggle with their self-esteem, develop depression or anxiety, abuse alcohol and other drugs, get into fights and vandalize property and even end up with criminal convictions.
Individuals may also potentially display high levels of aggressive behaviour which can impact on their future including struggle to develop and maintain effective relationships (both in their personal lives and when it comes to integrating into the workplace), having difficulty understanding boundaries and limits and may even be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults.
When it comes to students engaging in bullying, there are increased changes that they might engage in violent and other risky behaviours into adulthood and may even end up dropping out or being expelled of school. Some students engage in bullying for a short time only and then stop either because they realise it’s wrong or they are supported to learn more appropriate behaviour. A small group of students continue to bully others over many years.
Although most research in this area focuses on the impacts of bullying on initiators and targets, bullying may also have a negative impact on bystanders, those who witness bullying. Even if an individual isn’t being bullied, they can be affected by witnessing it. No one can do well when they feel unsafe.
Those who have witnessed bullying are also likely to have increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs, be at higher risk for mental health problems, including depression and anxiety and may also experience feelings of fearfulness, fear or guilt for not doing anything. Some may even experience pressure to participate in the bullying which can lead to cognitive dissonance which can eventually lead to nightmares, feelings of excess worry and distress.
As we can see, the effects of bullying can be devastating, as they often continue long into adulthood and drive countless individuals into depression or self-harm. Some will even attempt or die by suicide. When left unaccounted for, bullying doesn't just affect the target and those who are bullying, but everyone who is exposed to the environment in which it occurs. We need to understand all these paradigms when we have conversations around bullying and trying to prevent the detrimental impact it can have.
Written by: Yash Mehrotra