How bullying can affect long term mental health in children

Two children looking down at another child

It’s no secret that bullying can affect mental health in children. But, did you know that the effect of bullying can lead to long-term conditions such as anxiety and depression? Read on to find out more about the impact of bullying, the signs to be aware of and how to seek help.

Bullying and mental health

According to the NSPCC, “Bullying is behaviour that hurts someone else. It includes name calling, hitting, pushing, spreading rumours, threatening or undermining someone. It can happen anywhere – at school, at home or online. It’s usually repeated over a long period of time and can hurt a child both physically and emotionally.”

Young people who have experienced bullying are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder or suffer from depression. The same applies to those that are isolated and have difficulties with friendships at school.

Fears and worries are a normal part of child development and the content of fears can change according to the individual’s developmental stage. Anxiety disorders occur when the intensity of the fear or worry is so high that it starts to impact on the child’s functioning and well-being. Depression affects just under 3% of children under the age of 13 and over 5% of 13-18-year olds. An estimated 20% will have had one depressive episode before the age of 18.

Bullying is an understandable reason for a child to feel sad or anxious but it need not mean they are suffering from anxiety or depression. However, regardless of the impact on the child, bullying in any form is never acceptable. Whether the bullying takes place at school, at home, online or somewhere else, it should be reported to the relevant authority and those responsible should be held to account.

When to seek help

If you notice any symptoms of depression or anxiety as a result of your child being bullied, and these persist or worsen, then you should refer to a professional. If left untreated, depression and anxiety can continue into adulthood and cause significant problems.

Some children may be fearful to talk about being bullied. In some cases the bully might have threatened them with consequences if they speak out about the abuse. So as a parent, teacher or carer, it’s important for you to provide a safe, open and non-judgemental environment for the child to be able to discuss their concerns. Discretion is very important too, especially for older children who may be embarrassed to admit to being bullied and might be reluctant to seek help.

What can schools do about bullying?

It’s important to raise any concerns about bullying with your child’s teacher, headteacher or mental health representative at the school. Many schools have adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to bullying. Sadly, this is not the case at all schools. So you may need to seek support from external sources in addition to reporting any incidents to your child’s school.

The NSPCC provides advice, resources and contact information for parents and children who are affected by bullying. Their website provides an explanation of the different kinds of bullying, including bullying at school and cyberbullying.