Mental Illness and Bullying and Understanding the Connection
According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another individual injury or discomfort. Bullying is not just seen in classrooms and on the playground but it is also seen in the home, in the workplace and online. 70.4% of school staff have seen bullying, 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month and 41% witness bullying once a week or more. Mental illness and bullying have a strong correlation and can affect self-esteem and lead to negative effects on an individual’s mindset. The relationship between mental illness and bullying had been proven over and over again and although treatment for mental illness remains the same, there are many ways to prevent and stop bullying before an individual is at risk of a mental health disorder.
Lasting mental health impacts from bullying
Even though bullying commonly happens in childhood, the impact can last well into adulthood. Duke University recently conducted research that shows the rates for agoraphobia and panic disorders greatly increases with bullying. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low esteem haunt many adults who were once bullied in childhood. Additionally, a new study out of King’s College London in the United Kingdom suggests that that bullying may cause physical changes in the brain and increase the chance of mental illness. The results showed that severe bullying was linked to changes in brain volume and levels of anxiety at age 19. Bullying may decrease the volume of parts of the brain called the caudate and putamen. The caudate plays a crucial role in how the brain learns, specifically how it process memories. This part of the brain uses information from past experiences to influence future actions and decisions. The putamen regulates movements and affects learning.
Long-term risks associated with bullying
With immediate and proper mental health treatment and support systems in place, the prevention of long term consequences associated with bullying can be minimized. Without intervention, however, kids are at risk for the following:
Increased risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide plans, and suicide attempts
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Poor general health
Self-destructive behavior, including self-harm
Difficulty establishing trusting, reciprocal friendships and relationships
Treatment and prevention
Bullying is a form of abuse that can have lasting impacts and as a result, individuals who have been bullied are usually treated similar to clients who have been through some sort of traumatic event as bullying can be viewed as a form of trauma. The three treatment goals for treating either a child or adult who has been bullied are: 1) Devise a plan to stop the abuse 2) Help the individual rebuild his/her self-esteem 3) Teach new constructive thought patterns to help the individual succeed in both the present and the future. Psychotherapy using cognitive behavioral therapy and different forms of trauma therapy can help the individual identify the most troubling memories from the abuse and learn new ways to move on from the trauma. Oftentimes individuals who are bullied are not aware of their self-defeating thoughts and destructive behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps individuals realize their maladaptive coping mechanisms and works on replacing them with more positive ones. This type of therapy will tackle destructive thinking patterns, confront distortions, break down the wall of self-doubt and help the victim regain confidence and control of his/her life. If an individual has been diagnosed with depression, PTSD, anxiety or any other mental health disorder then specific treatment including medication and psychotherapy can be used to treat that specific disorder.
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.
Mental Illness Awareness Week
Mental Illness Awareness Week runs from October 6-12th. To promote awareness of mental illnesses, we have a special message from George Livengood LMFT, Assistant National Directory of Operation for Discovery Mood and Anxiety Programs.