“Bullying is a horrible thing. It sticks with you forever. It poisons you. But only if you let it.” ― Heather Brewer
Bullying has become such a common occurrence that October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month is dedicated to learning and raising awareness about bullying and cyberbullying prevention. Approximately 20% of students ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied, while roughly 31% of adults have reported being bullied as an adult. That is a startling number of adolescents and adults.
While some instances of bullying are very obvious, at other times defining bullying can be more difficult. The CDC’s website defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, which are not siblings or current dating partners, that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance, and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.” Unwanted aggressive behavior can look different based on the type of bullying. It can be done face-to-face and/or online. The following are forms of bullying:
- Physical: Intentionally punching, kicking, or tripping others.
- Verbal: Calling others names or teasing based on criteria such as looks, personal interests, or beliefs.
- Relational/Social: Spreading rumors or lies or purposely excluding others out of an activity/group.
- Damage: Damaging property that belongs to the individual being bullied.
One example of bullying that I experienced was being teased in person and over AOL Instant Messaging (AIM), for being more effeminate than my male peers. I was called several homophobic slurs. On one occasion, I was told by someone with an unknown AIM username to ‘kill myself’ for being gay. Another instance of bullying I have personally experienced was being purposely excluded from a social gathering of all my friends. Although I don’t recall the reason for this exclusion, I remember the feeling of social isolation I felt.
The bullying I experienced had an impact on me, as it does for many adolescents and adults. Short-term effects of bullying include social isolation, feelings of shame, sleep disturbances, changes in self-esteem, changes in eating habits, symptoms of anxiety or depression, and increased substance use. Long term effects include chronic depression, anxiety disorders (roughly 70% of adults who were bullied experience anxiety and depression), PTSD, poor physical health, including sleep loss (39% of adults), headaches (26% of adults), and muscle tension/pain (22% of adults). Other long-term side effects of bullying include substance abuse and increased risk of suicidal ideations and suicide attempts.
Now that we know what bullying is, how it might look, and how it can impact others, how can we prevent it? Below is a list of four examples of ways we can work towards preventing bullying.
- See something, say something: If we see someone being bullied, whether in a school, out on the street, or online, we can say something, stand up for the person being bullied. It is much harder to bully a group of people than it is an individual.
- Talk about it: As a parent or teacher, you can talk about it with your kids or students. As adults, we can talk about it with our friends or family. Talking about bullying is an excellent way to create a space for others to ask open-ended questions about what appropriate behavior is.
- Tell someone: Talking about active bullying you are experiencing can help remind us that we aren’t alone or isolated and that we have support.
- Include Others: If we know someone is intentionally being excluded from an event, we can invite that person ourselves. Or, if that doesn’t feel comfortable, we can choose not to attend that event and instead invite the excluded person to hang out.
Unfortunately for many of us, we either didn’t have these tools or didn’t feel like we could talk to anyone about bullying. If you’ve been bullied and have experienced any of the short-term or long-term effects, please know that therapy can be a great place to process your experiences and learn how to cope with them. There are a number of therapists who are willing to help. If you are interested in starting therapy, please feel free to contact us.