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The Lasting Health Effects of Bullying


June 02, 2016 Posted in: Family Health , Article

Many of us have had a brush with bullying in our lives -- whether as the victim, the bully, or even both at one time or another. No one who has been bullied can forget that moment of fear and embarrassment or the crushing feeling of being picked on.

Even as adults, we can still encounter bullying, particularly in our places of work and other social settings where there is room for an imbalance of power between a victim and their antagonist.

The various health effects of bullying have been studied extensively in recent years, as concerns over the long-term impacts that victims experience continue to grow. A recent literature review in Frontiers in Public Health highlighted the extensive research showcasing that victims and bullies alike often experience lasting effects to their mental health development, many of which can continue into adulthood.

How can you tell if your child is bullying or being bullied, and what can you do to help?

Physical Symptoms

The outward and inward effects of bullying are often intertwined. Aside from the possible bodily harm that can be caused by violent bullying, the American Society for the Positive Care of Children notes that the stress of being in these anxiety-inducing situations often leads to physical manifestations, such as:

  • Headaches.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Impaired immune-system function.
  • Increased sensitivity to allergens.
  • Insomnia and night terrors.

The culprit of these symptoms is usually the long-term effects of stress on the body caused by the fight-or-flight response, a reaction generated by being in dangerous or anxiety-inducing situations. This response floods the body with the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to weight gain, increased blood pressure, and other health concerns.

Mental Health Effects

Because of the nature of bullying, victims often experience decreased self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, and social withdrawal. According to the National Institutes of Health, these emotions can linger into adulthood and may lead to an increased risk of mental health issues, including:

  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Depression.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Self-harm.
  • Suicidal ideation.

How Parents Can Help

It can be difficult to determine if bullying is taking place in your child's life. Not all children express warning signs, and many don't tell their parents about the situation. Because bullying occurs primarily at school or during school-related activities, it's important to be aware of how pervasive the problem is in your child's school, what the bullying policies are, and if they're effective. You may want to advocate for the school to implement a worthwhile bullying prevention program.

Additionally, keep an open dialogue with your child about their daily life. Pay attention to their moods, how they feel about school, if they've lost any treasured personal items lately, if they come home hungrier than usual, and if they are exhibiting any of the health signals listed above. While it's possible the culprit could be something else, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Is My Child a Bully?

Just as important is to look out for signs that your child might be a bully. As a parent, it may be easier to deny or downplay your child's behavior rather than face it head on, but ignoring the problem won't help in the long run.

If your child comes home with new belongings or extra money, shows signs of increased aggression, refuses to take responsibility for their actions, or is reported to be getting into fights and receiving detention, it's worth checking in with your child and their school. Teaching your kids that bullying is unacceptable is the first step to creating a safer environment for all children.

With some proactive parenting, you can do your part to keep your children from experiencing the lasting effects of bullying and help them chart their path to a happy, healthy adulthood.

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