Bullying Affects The Mental Health of Victims and Perpetrators
Mon, April 19, 2021

Bullying Affects The Mental Health of Victims and Perpetrators

Bullying is often defined as any kind of action that is unwanted and aggressive by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings, and this kind of behavior is repeated over multiple times or highly likely to be repeated / Photo by: Cathy Yeulet via 123RF

 

In the United States, it is estimated that 18-31% of young people are involved in bullying -- either being the perpetrator or the victim of such behavior. It is also unfortunate that in 2017, it was reported that nationwide, about 20% of school children ages 12-18 have experienced bullying. 

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is often defined as any kind of action that is unwanted and aggressive by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings, and this kind of behavior is repeated over multiple times or highly likely to be repeated. Both persons who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting mental health problems. Moreover, bullying can include actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and including someone from a group intentionally. 

Bullying Others Can Increase the Risk of Mental Health Problems

Researchers from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health recently published a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health that suggests that there is a two-way relationship between bullying perpetration and mental health problems in young people in the United States. They claim that bullying others can increase the risk of developing internalized problems, and having these problems increases the probability of bullying others. In the past, research was focused on the causes and consequences of bullying victimization but this is actually the first comprehensive study that explains the time sequence between bullying perpetration and mental health problems. 

According to Dr. Marine Azevedo Da Silva, a post-doctoral researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and an author of the study, it has previously been documented that bullying victimization is linked to immediate and life-long mental illness problems but no studies have examined the hypothesis that the relationship between bullying perpetration and mental health problems may be bidirectional. 

In the study, the researchers analyzed data from 13,200 teenagers aged 12 to 17 in the nationally representative population assessment of tobacco and health survey, in order to study the two-way effects in bullying perpetration and internalization. The subjects in the study were varied, 79% of them reported they never bullied others, 11% of them reported they bullied others years ago, 10% of them have reported that they have been bullied others over the past year. Then the researchers examined the relationship between bullying perpetration as a predictor of internalizing problems. They found out that the people who reported being the perpetrators of bullying were more likely to develop a moderate to high risk of mental health problems compared to those who reported they never bullied anyone. 

On the other hand, the researchers also saw that the people who experienced moderate to high internalizing problems had increased risk of bullying others compared to those who reported no or low incidence of having mental health issues. Dr. Da Silva explained that the study was designed to allow researchers to show that there is an association and it is likely to be bidirectional between bullying perpetration and internalizing problem. 

Dr. Silvia Martins, director of the Substance Abuse Epidemiology Unit of the Department of Epidemiology and a senior author of the study, adds that their findings provide an important addition to the previous literature and indicates that bullying behaviors prevention and intervention strategies among teenagers should consider their mental health as well, whether they are prone or they already experience mental disorders already. It is also important to note that the methods of assessment which include definitions, question-wording, and self-report could overestimate or underestimate the prevalence of bullying and it can also influence the strength of association between bullying perpetration and internalizing problems. 

Bullying and Mental Health Consequences 

According to the American Psychological Association, bullying commonly happens during childhood but the impact of it can last well into adulthood. According to a study conducted by researchers from Duke University in North Carolina, the rates for agoraphobia and panic disorders greatly increase with bullying. Moreover, mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem can also be caused in some way by bullying. 

The most common form of bullying is physical and it occurs when a child with more power either socially, physically, or intellectually hurts another child to gain more control that is an act of bullying. Another type of bullying is called relational bullying -- this includes ostracizing a specific individual from the group, spreading rumors about them, and manipulating others. This kind of bullying is hard to detect and monitor since it involves the social interaction between the aggressor and the victim, unlike in physical bullying in which the act can be seen right away. 

Cyberbullying is also a new form of bullying that usually targets teenagers and even adults. It can take on many forms, as social media allows anyone to write bad things about any individual. The difference between cyberbullying and other types of bullying is that it does not end when someone walks away and it can continue at home. 

Furthermore, according to Psych Central, a psychology news website, although anyone can be a victim of bullying, common victims tend to show a few common traits such as having low self-esteem, lack of friends and social interaction, possible difficulties in learning, and physical differences. Also, as reported on Medical News Today, an academic and medical news website, bullying can decrease the volume of parts of the brain called the caudate and putamen -- they play a crucial role in how the brain learns and also in how it processes memories. This part of the brain uses information from the past and influences future actions and decisions. This finding is quite important since it says that victims of bullying may actually have physical alterations to their brains and increase their risk of developing anxiety in young adulthood. 

Bullying is a very important issue that needs to be addressed as early as possible because it can cause long-term effects and result in feelings of helplessness, further social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and self-blame.