In general, research has found that teens who bully as well as teens who are bullied are at risk for mental illness. Although the types of mental illness might vary depending upon whether a teen was consistently bullied or whether he or she was the one doing the bullying, both can have psychological effects.
A recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Psychiatry indicated that victims of bullying are at increased risk for emotional disorders in adulthood, and that bullies as well as victims of bullying are at the highest risk to think about and plan suicide. The relationship between bullying and mental illnesses were also confirmed in a study done by Duke University, revealing that effects of bullying are long-lasting for both the victim and the bully.
The study found that the victims of bullying are prone to higher rates of agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Meanwhile, both bullies and victims of bullying are prone to panic disorder, agoraphobia, suicidal thoughts and behavior as well as major depressive disorder.
Furthermore, in June of 2015, the University of Oxford in England found that teenagers who reported being frequently bullied were twice as likely to be clinically depressed at 18 years of age. Although there isn’t a cause-effect relationship between bullying and depression, there is a strong indication that bullying can contribute to depression.
The Oxford study surveyed 4,000 teens at the age of 13 about bullying. Then, these same teens were assessed for depression at age 18. The results revealed that close to 700 teens were bullied more than once per week. Of these, 15% were depressed at age 18. Over 1,440 teens reported being bullied one to three time in six months. Of these, 7% were depressed at age 18. And of those who did not report any bullying, 5.5% were depressed at age 18.
One of the experiences that being bullied tends to contribute to is learned helplessness. It is when a person has had consistent experiences of helplessness, such as in trauma or being bullied. Over time, the feeling of helplessness becomes so familiar that it becomes the way a teen might respond to challenging situations. In other words, he or she has lost their ability to take action, fight, or get help. It’s common for bullied teens to avoid telling their parents or caregivers about the bullying. Learned helplessness frequently contributes to depression.
If you see signs of depression in your teen, bullying might be a contributing factor. You might also notice that he or she doesn’t want to go to school. Or your teen might complain about someone who is picking on them. In this situation, it’s important that parents follow up with school administrators and do what they can to keep their teens safe. Furthermore, if your teen is exhibiting signs of depression, take him or her to a mental health professional for support.