What impact does bullying have on mental health?

What impact does bullying have on mental health? Brighter Life Therapy

Bullying is a common issue that can be defined as behaving negatively towards other people with the intention to cause harm. Of course, not every interaction we have with everyone will be positive, but bullying has specific characteristics. It is repetitive, hostile in nature, and characterised by an imbalance in power between the bully and bullied individual. Examples of bullying behaviour includes:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Starting or contributing to rumours about individuals
  • Being physically intimidating or violent towards others
  • Ganging up on someone or undermining them in front of others
  • Cyber bullying – saying nasty things, harassing or intimidating people online
  • Any form of humiliation

Being a victim of bullying can have an enormous impact on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing, making it an important discussion. So in what situations does bullying occur? And how can we best respond to it?

When does bullying occur?

Bullying can occur in various contexts and situations, and can happen to anyone. Those who are often targeted for bullying are often those who are different in some way.

People may be picked on for their appearance, behaviour, or their social status. In instances where an individual is being targeted for their race, religious beliefs or sexual identity, this is considered discriminatory behaviours, and can lead to police involvement. With regards to the different contexts, bullying can occur:

  • Between peers at school. Arguably the most commonly associated with bullying, as it does occur a lot in schools. Research has suggested that bullying in schools is usually a group behaviour, rather than between two individuals.

  • Between colleagues at work:
    This could be upward bullying, whereby someone is bullying their supervisor or someone else above them (e.g. undermining their boss in front of others, showing disrespect, refusing to complete tasks).
    Downward bullying is where someone in a superior role is behaving badly to someone that they are more senior to. This could be through heavier workloads, humiliating them in front of others, and generally not helping with the person’s career goals or development.
  • Within friendships and social situations: On occasion, it can be an issue of miscommunication rather than malicious bullying, especially with disagreements in young friendship groups. However, if a friend or someone in your social group is repeatedly behaving maliciously towards you, this is likely bullying.

Impact on mental health

Of course, having such negative experiences repeatedly can have an emotional and mental impact on bully victims. Here are some of the ways bullying can impact mental health:

  • Low self-esteem. When repeatedly receiving negative feedback from others, a individual may begin to believe what others say about them. They may then develop a low sense of self worth.
  • Social anxiety. A bullied individual may begin to experience anxiety around others, and develop a fear of confrontation. They may begin avoiding social situations to avoid potential negative outcomes.
  • Depressive episodes and low mood. Bullying can have a huge impact on a person’s mood, and can lead to a depressive episode. Symptoms of depression include feeling low (and/or irritable if you are a young person), difficulties sleeping and eating, and experiencing guilt or shame.
  • Disliking your own appearance. This may be a common one, particularly for young people being bullied at school. Many instances of bullying between young people are appearance-related. This can lead to someone becoming very self-conscious about their appearance, e.g. their clothes, hair, or weight, ultimately contributing to low self-esteem and low mood.
  • Self-harm and suicidal thoughts. A more severe consequence of bullying, and subsequent mental health issues, can be someone self-harming or experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviours.

How can we deal with bullying?

Now we know what bullying is and the impact it can have, what ways can we tackle bullying?

For children and young people:


As a young person being picked on at school, the first thing we can recommend is talking to the individual, especially in the cases where they are your friend. Being firm and assertive, but not aggressive, when explaining how they’ve made you feel, can help resolve the situation.

In other situations, communicating how you feel does not work. It’s advised that you don’t react to the bullies, as they are often looking for a reaction, and will stop if they don’t get one. In those instances, it is also recommended you tell an adult what has been happening. Of course this is easier said than done, especially if the bully has made threats around you telling someone. However, it can be the best way to, not only talk the situation through with someone which can help you to feel better, but it can also lead to actions being taken.

If you are being bullied online, it can be tempting to just delete your social media. And, although this is certainly an option, blocking and reporting the user also helps. It is also a good idea to tell an adult about these situations too.

For adults:

When being bullied as an adult, this can be more complex and difficult to resolve.

At work, bullying in a workplace may be indicative of a toxic working culture within an organisation, and can therefore be difficult to resolve. Bullying escalates and thrives when the person being bullied feels alone and isolated. Start by trying to talk to the person bullying you. Being made aware of how it makes you feel, and the issues it is causing, may be enough to make the person stop.

If the bullying continues, begin recording evidence e.g. by saving emails, screenshot messages, make note of incidences. Discuss the situation with someone in a superior role to you, such as your manager, or a member of HR. Your employers are responsible for ensuring your workplace is safe and free of harassment.

What can Brighter Life Therapy do to help?

Although we can not deal with the bullying directly, we can certainly provide mental health support for those who need it. Brighter Life Therapy provides fast access to CBT and counselling treatment, which you can read about here. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108 or by emailing info@brighterlifetherapy.co.uk

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