How Does Bullying Affect Mental Health?

March 4, 2024

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Bullying can strongly impact both physical and emotional well-being. The effects of bullying on mental health may extend from the immediate aftermath into later stages of life. Bullying effects include physical harm, social difficulties, emotional distress, and in severe cases, death.

Anyone who is subjected to bullying faces a heightened risk of mental health issues, experiencing headaches, and challenges in adapting to educational environments. Bullying can also inflict lasting harm on a person’s self-worth.

Beyond this, children and adolescents who engage in bullying behaviors are more likely to encounter problems with substance abuse, academic challenges, and exhibit violent behaviors towards others as they grow older. Read on to learn more about bullying impact on mental health.

Bullying and Psychological Effects

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) categorizes bullying as a type of youth violence that’s characterized by undesired aggressive conduct by a bully (an individual or group) toward a victim. Bullying is classified as an ACE (adverse childhood experience).

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Need Help Getting Mental Health Treatment?

Central to bullying is an imbalance of power, which may be rooted in differences in social status, wealth, physical strength, or size. This behavior, distinguishable by its repetitive nature, aims to inflict physical, psychological, social, or educational damage on the victim, setting it apart from one-off incidents like disagreements or physical altercations.

Bullying manifests in various forms, including:

  • Physical aggression: Actions like tripping, hitting, pushing, or spitting on someone.
  • Social alienation: Excluding someone from a group, mocking, teasing, name-calling, and hurling insults.
  • Coercion and threats: Forcing someone to act against their will, damaging their property, or making threats.
  • Slander: Spreading false narratives or malicious lies about someone.
  • Cyberbullying: This modern form of bullying uses digital platforms for public, private, or anonymous harassment through texts, social media, online forums, and gaming platforms. Cyberbullies often employ rumors, threats, and name-calling, sometimes misusing social media and texting to disseminate explicit images of their targets or bombard them with invasive questions about their whereabouts, companions, and activities.

In the short term, the psychological ramifications of bullying can be severe and distressing. Victims may experience:

  • Persistent worry and fear about future bullying incidents.
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
  • A diminished sense of self-worth stemming from the repeated harassment.
  • Insomnia or nightmares related to the bullying experiences.
  • In extreme cases, the distress can lead to self-injurious behaviors or thoughts of suicide.

While these effects may appear to diminish over time, the resolution of visible symptoms does not necessarily mean that the person has fully recovered. Emerging research indicates that the scars left by bullying can extend far beyond childhood, predisposing victims to ongoing mental health challenges.

The long-term effects of bullying extend well into adulthood, impacting mental health in far-reaching ways. Research has identified a correlation between being bullied in childhood and an increased risk of various mental health disorders in adulthood, including:

  • GAD (generalized anxiety disorder): Chronic anxiety that is not limited to any specific environment or situation.
  • Panic disorder: Frequent and unexpected panic attacks accompanied by intense fear.
  • Agoraphobia: The fear of places or situations that might cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment.
  • Depression: Persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest, and other emotional and physical problems.
  • Loneliness: Feelings of being alone or isolated, regardless of the presence of others.
  • School avoidance: A reluctance or refusal to attend school, stemming from fear of bullying and its repercussions.

The persistence of these effects into adulthood highlights the pressing need for early intervention and support for victims of bullying. It also shows the importance of preventative measures within schools and communities to address and mitigate bullying behaviors, promoting a safer and more inclusive environment for all children.

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What Can Bullying Lead to?

Bullying can lead to several severe and long-lasting consequences for victims, bystanders, and even the bullies themselves.

Consequences for victims

Victims of bullying are at heightened risk of developing anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The emotional toll of being bullied can also lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Bullying can negatively affect a victim’s academic performance due to increased absenteeism, difficulty concentrating, and a loss of interest in schoolwork.

The stress of being bullied can manifest in physical symptoms like headaches, sleep disturbances, and a weakened immune system.

Additionally, victims may withdraw from peer groups and activities, leading to loneliness and difficulties in building or maintaining social relationships.

Consequences for bystanders

Witnessing bullying can lead to feelings of helplessness and distress, which some may cope with through substance use.

Bystanders may also experience guilt, anxiety, or helplessness, contributing to their own mental health challenges.

Consequences for bullies

Children and adolescents who bully others tend to display violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood, including substance abuse and criminal activity.

Bullies may also experience academic issues, including lower achievement and higher truancy rates.

Individuals who bully are at risk of struggling with relationships, experiencing conflicts, and engaging in domestic violence in their adult lives.

man sitting with hands in hair representing bullying causes depression

Why do People Bully Other People?

Bullying behavior can stem from various factors, often reflecting a mix of individual, social, and environmental influences. Here are some common reasons why people bully others:

Desire for power and control

Many bullies seek to exert dominance over their peers, finding satisfaction in controlling or manipulating others. This desire for power can stem from feelings of powerlessness in other areas of their lives.

Social pressures and group dynamics

Peer pressure and the desire to fit in can lead some people to participate in bullying. Group dynamics can play a part, too, with some people engaging in bullying behavior as part of group conformity or to gain social status within a peer group.

Lack of empathy

A lack of empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – can make it easier for bullies to inflict pain without feeling guilt or remorse. This lack of empathy may be due to developmental issues, social learning, or personal experiences.

Personal experiences

Individuals who have experienced bullying, abuse, or neglect themselves may be more likely to bully others. Bullying can be a learned behavior, with individuals mimicking the aggressive behaviors they have witnessed or endured.

Low self-esteem

Contrary to the belief that bullies have high self-esteem, many engage in bullying to mask their own insecurities and boost their self-worth by demeaning others.

Cultural influences

Cultural norms that glorify aggression and competition can also contribute to bullying behaviors. Media portrayals of violence and aggression as acceptable means of resolving conflicts can influence some people to emulate these behaviors.

Environmental factors

A lack of supervision, intervention, or consequences for bullying behaviors in schools, communities, and online environments can perpetuate and even encourage bullying. Environments that fail to promote respect, diversity, and inclusion can also contribute to the problem.

By addressing these underlying causes and fostering environments that promote empathy, respect, and positive social interactions, it’s possible to reduce bullying and its toxic effects on individuals and communities.

How to Deal with Depression Because of Bullying

If bullying causes depression, consider these strategies:

  • Acknowledge your feelings: Recognize and accept your emotions as valid responses to being bullied. Understand that feeling depressed, anxious, or low because of bullying is a natural reaction, not a sign of weakness.
  • Seek support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or teachers who can provide emotional support and guidance. Sharing your experiences with someone who listens and cares can be incredibly healing.
  • Professional help: Consider seeking help from a mental health professional like a psychologist or therapist who can offer personalized strategies for coping with depression. Therapy can provide a safe space to explore your feelings, develop coping mechanisms, and strengthen your resilience.
  • Engage in self-care: Prioritize activities that promote well-being and relaxation, such as exercise, hobbies, reading, or spending time in nature. Self-care practices can boost your mood, reduce stress, and improve your overall mental health.
  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help manage stress and reduce symptoms of depression. These practices encourage a focus on the present moment and a break from negative thought patterns.
  • Build a supportive community: Joining support groups, either in-person or online, can connect you with others who have experienced similar challenges. Sharing experiences and coping strategies in a supportive environment can foster a sense of community and belonging.
  • Educate yourself: Learning about depression and understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatments can empower you to take a more proactive role in your recovery. Knowledge can demystify the condition and provide insights into effective coping strategies.
  • Develop coping skills: Working with a therapist or counselor can help you develop healthy coping skills to deal with bullying and its emotional impact. Talk therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can be especially effective in challenging and changing negative thought patterns.
  • Set boundaries: Learn to set healthy boundaries to protect yourself from further harm. This might include limiting interaction with the bully, seeking intervention from authorities or school officials, and using privacy settings on social media platforms.

Dealing with depression due to bullying is a journey that takes time and courage. Remember, you’re not alone, and with the right support and strategies, you can overcome the challenges you face and move toward a healthier, happier life.


How does bullying affect people?

Bullying can lead to a range of negative outcomes for individuals, including increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. It can also result in decreased academic achievement and school participation due to the stressful environment it engenders.

How does bullying affect mental health?

Bullying significantly impacts mental health, contributing to the development of anxiety, depression, and in severe cases suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The persistent fear and stress induced by bullying can also inflame pre-existing mental health conditions and trigger long-term psychological trauma.

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Get Treatment for Depression & Anxiety from Bullying at Connections

If you need to help someone with depression, one of the most effective things you can do is encourage them to engage with evidence-based treatment.

At Connections Mental Health in Southern California, we offer immersive inpatient treatment that addresses any mental health issues in a welcoming, inclusive environment. We limit intake at our beachside facility to just six people at any one time. this provides the optimum balance between one-to-one attention and the support of peers undergoing similar experiences.

All mental health conditions are unique, so expect to access individualized treatments that include talk therapies, counseling, medication management, and holistic treatments. You can expect to restore functioning and improve well-being, and you will also develop healthy coping techniques to use in everyday life.

Help someone you love overcome mental health issues by calling Connections at 844-759-0999.

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