We talk a lot about respect and personal connections, but often we fail to talk about what happens when people refuse to be a part of that. Amongst other things, October is a time to reflect on how we treat the people around us and how maltreatment negatively affects others. Specifically, it’s a time to acknowledge the prominence of bullying. In Scott Poland’s words, professor of psychology and co-directer of the Suicide Violence and Prevention office, the difference between good-natured teasing and bullying is when “One person walks away feeling powerful and good about the interaction and the other one feels vulnerable and put down.” Further, he mentioned that while some resources often define bullying as “repetitive,” one post online may be considered cyberbullying if it’s amplified by other online users.
Bullying can have long-term negative effects on victims, especially vulnerable groups such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with special needs and disabilities and people marginalized based on race, ethnicity or faith. According to PACER’s National Bullying Organization, bullying has significant impacts on more than just the short term; victims of bullying have increased risk of anxiety and depression, as well as relationship difficulties.
Moreover, researchers have found bullying and suicide to be correlated. Poland said, “Suicide almost always involves adverse childhood experiences, and bullying is certainly one of those, but an adolescent suicide almost always involves untreated or under-treated mental illness as well.”
In terms of coping with and intervening, Poland makes it clear that we should be active in directly asking people, especially adolescents we are concerned about, if they are experiencing bullying or emotional distress. Victims of bullying should know that the harassment they are undergoing is not their fault. While bullying peaks in middle school, it can happen in high school, college and even in the workplace, so it’s important to remain adamant about prevention.
As for the bullies themselves, accountability is crucial to preventing this damaging behavior. Part of accountability may be directly intervening if you are a witness, which encompasses standing up to the bully, letting an authority figure know and supporting the victim.
Resources for bullying exist, but Poland said, “Frankly, we need a lot more resources about bullying prevention, especially in the workplace.” This also applies to creating a more efficient, accessible procedure for reporting bullying. In the meantime, people who want to learn more about bullying can visit stopbullying.gov, and anyone struggling with bullying can reach out to Henderson Counseling Services.