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Cause and effect: Bullying and Mental Health

The mental health of children and young people has recently become a hot topic in the media. However, the lack of support for young people with mental health considerations has been an ongoing issue for many years. Importantly, the link between children and young people in bullying dynamics either as the targets or perpetrators of bullying has been proven to impact their mental health. (See Farringdon, Ttofi and Theodorkis 2012). Bullying can have a major effect on the mental health of young people particularly in later life and in some cases, it has been reported to have an impact even up to 50 years later (Arseneault, 2014).

For the targets of bullying; post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem can all be the consequences of repeated aggressive behaviour by peers. Post-traumatic stress caused by the trauma of being bullied can have a devastating effect on the lives of children and young people. In extreme cases pupils opt to stay-at-home and can become school phobic, in effect fearing to return to school. Likewise, those who repeatedly use aggressive behaviour in social situations may be more at risk of mental health issues. For the perpetrators of bullying behaviour these issues can include depression, anger management issues, anxiety, low self-esteem and fear of rejection.

Social isolation in bullying incidents can have a devastating impact on children and young people. The feelings of loneliness and isolation can increase stress and anxiety. There is also the feeling of being rejected by peers which can lead to anger and frustration at not being accepted.

Thus, bullying can be a cause for some young people to develop mental health issues. This is why it is fundamentally important that schools and adults working with children and young people know how to intervene and appropriately address issues for both perpetrators and targets.

For young people already suffering mental health issues, bullying can increase their risk of becoming a target due to a lack of confidence, the misreading of social situations or not having the confidence to engage with peers. There is also the potential to be labelled as someone who has ‘mental health issues’ and that itself can become a cause for the young person to be bullied. There is a need for the clear understanding of vulnerabilities for young people with mental health issues, particularly when applying anti-bullying initiatives to address harmful behaviour.

ConflictHub has been designed to ensure that young people have a voice throughout the process. This empowers children and young people with a sense of control over both the process and the outcome. We also support professionals in delivering conflict resolution processes that are inclusive, empowering, and solution focused. By changing the way in which we address bullying, from a behaviour issue, to a mental health issue, schools and professionals working with children could help reduce demand on mental health services.

Bullying is both a cause of mental health issues and also has an effect on young people with mental health issues. Professionals can support children and young people with mental health issues by ensuring that bullying situations are addressed in a way that produces successful outcomes for all those involved. By utilising ConflictHub, which has been developed by experts in this field, they can develop good practice combined with processes to achieve this aim.

Ensuring that young people’s voices are heard during any process is essential to affirming that children and young people are empowered, whether they are the perpetrator, target, or bystander. Feeling recognised included and a valued member of the school community contributes to both prevention and the solution to addressing mental health concerns.

Being given a voice in a situation that directly affects them; this helps to reduce the young person’s feelings of social isolation. The support shown by the school community can help to create a sense of belonging and an identity as community member.

Research is mounting that proves a causal link between bullying and mental health. What we need now is effective practice deploying the best possible solutions to ensure young people’s mental health and well-being when faced with bullying situations.

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