14/10/2016 1:05 PM IST | Updated 15/10/2016 8:38 AM IST

Bullying Makes Children Suffer—Whether They Are Aggressors, Victims Or Bystanders

Neil Webb

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Kids who are bullied as well as those who bully others may have unresolved issues, with lasting implications. No one feels good to be beaten up, physically or emotionally. But does it feel good to beat someone else up? It might seem so for a moment, but in reality, there are far graver consequences.

Being bullied leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, both of which can contribute to suicidal thoughts.

Children can be divided into three broad categories—the bullies, the bullied and the bystanders—and each group (yes, even bystanders) may suffer from severe psychological harm that makes them take the designated role and create the effects for it.

The bullied

Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues such as:

1. Depression and anxiety, manifested in 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.

2. Health complaints

3. Decreased academic achievement and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.

4. A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures.

The bullies

Kids who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviours into adulthood, such as:

1. Abuse of alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults.

2. Getting into fights, vandalizing property and dropping out of school.

3. Engaging in early sexual activity.

4. Having criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults.

5. Being abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses or children as adults.

The bystanders

Kids who witness bullying, the bystanders, are more likely to:

1. Have increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs.

2. Have increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

3. Miss or skip school.

Bullying and Suicide—related?

A link does exist between bullying and suicide, but it is not as simple as assuming that a victim will contemplate or commit suicide. Rather, the situation stems from multiple factors.

This is primarily because being bullied leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, both of which can contribute to suicidal thoughts. While there is no conclusive evidence yet that bullying "causes" suicide, the close association between being bullied and having suicidal thoughts means parents, teachers and administrators should closely monitor bullying behaviour so they can put an end to it, and should watch known victims closely.

Part of the problem is a culture of inaction, left over from the old days when bullying was freely tolerated.

Children, as well as adults, should be educated about the relationship between suicide and bullying, to help them understand (as bullies, as victims and as observers) that this is not a harmless behaviour, but one with serious consequences. Opening up the conversation and trusting kids with this information will help, not harm.

Regardless of definition or empirical construct, bullying by peers during childhood and adolescence affects a significant minority of individuals. Not only is bullying an adverse experience, but there appears to be a variety of potential short- and long-term psychological as well as a somatic effects. The psychological after-effects may include social difficulties, internalizing symptoms, anxiety and depression, suicidal ideation, and eating disorders. In addition, various types of psychosomatic symptoms may be experienced. Being alert to these associations in both mental health and primary care settings may expedite the identification of bullying victims and the subsequent eradication of these abusive experiences.

Bullying is a serious issue with serious impacts on victims, bullies and bystanders. Part of the problem is a culture of inaction, left over from the old days when bullying was freely tolerated. Given the tragic results for children and adults, however, it is important to defeat this viewpoint once and for all and see bullying for the insidious problem it is.

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