The Terrible Effects of Bullying on Mental Health

bullying word cloud
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Today is Pink Shirt Day in Canada, a day to stand up against bullying. It began when students in a Canadian high school wore pink in support of a male student who was bullied for wearing pink.

Pink Shirt Day makes for a good time to talk about how bullying affects mental health. While bullying among children and youth is more at the forefront of public awareness, adults can also be the targets of bullying. Workplace bullying is one form that adult bullying may take. According to Wikipedia, most studies report a prevalence of 10-15%.

The effects of workplace bullying on mental health can be profound. Here are some of those effects, taken from several research papers referenced below:

  • anxiety
  • demoralized
  • despair
  • destroyed
  • fear
  • helplessness
  • hopelessness
  • isolation
  • panic attacks
  • powerlessness
  • shame
  • sleeplessness
  • undermined
  • vulnerable
  • decreased confidence and sense of self-worth
  • perceive the world as less benevolent, just, and controllable
  • perceive other people as less supportive and caring
  • damage to personal relationships
  • threatened sense of self

Bullying is also linked to mental illness. In a study by Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 76% of bullying targets exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A study by Quine found an increased risk of anxiety and depression among nurses who experienced bullying.

Kivimäki and colleagues found a significant relationship between bullying and new depression diagnoses, but they also found that people with depression were more likely to be bullied.  The researchers suggested this could be due to increased targeting by bullies or increased perception of others’ behaviours as hostile.

Words can hurt. Adults are not somehow protected from the effects of bullying by virtue of being adults. Bullying happens, and whether it happens to children or adults, it often goes unaddressed. This isn’t acceptable. Organizations need to address this issue, and stop hiding behind anti-bullying programs, using them as an excuse to stick their heads in the sand, or even worse, target the victims while protecting the perpetrator. Bullying exists, it has major effects on mental health, and we need to speak up whenever we see it.

And that’s what I have to say this pink shirt day.


31 thoughts on “The Terrible Effects of Bullying on Mental Health”

  1. Bullying by others, affected me for much of my young life. The bullying didn’t fully go away for me in the military 100% either, it was mostly gone, but I remember an incident. Any how, bullying is something that is very troubling for me to think about. Only because it still exists.

  2. As you know Ashley, I was bullied at school and although the effects of that bullying affected me in adult life, I know kids of today seem to get it worse.

    As for bullies in the adult world, I have had that in the last few years of my last job I was in before I finally left and in job where I am today. I wasn’t alone in that bullying, as it affected my colleague too. But for two occasions where I was bullied on my own by them, this brought my anxiety attacks out even more, which resulted in panic attacks.
    They were eventually sorted by people higher than them. But damage was already done to me in my eyes and I have never looked back since leaving there. I now have two different employers who are much more caring then them and as I found supportive too.

      1. It really does help and majes a difference, that’s for sure. But to start with, it was strange to receive such support, when I have not had it before for some years in previous job.

  3. I’ve been bullied for most of my school career by peers and teachers, just like several friends. It seems like being a victim of parental or familial abuse makes one a bigger target. Like people sense or realise we have no advocates.

    I’ve been bullied in several jobs too, which definitely affected and still affect my mental health.

  4. I was bullied horribly in middle school and at at least a couple workplaces. After much therapy, I realize that I am just a magnet to abusers, having been raised by one 🙁 That awareness helps me try to set boundaries now though and stay away from people who act certain ways.

  5. Thank you for writing about your experience so that we can all benefit from learning about the importance of standing up to bullying. We have not seen it in the workplace, and we have heard about it.

    We were a bully in the first few years of school. We modeled the violence in our household. We were a kid trying to get our needs met in the way we knew how. Teachers used violence against us, too, which reinforced our use of violence.

    When we stopped growing early, like age 9, and everyone else passed us, we did not change our ways because our household was still the same. We developed a sharp tongue. And we got beat up a fair amount. The violence–verbal and physical at school and at home–continued throughout high school.

    Going to college helped. We learned so much not just from books but also from being away from home, seeing how other people related to one another–some in the same ways as we and some differently. Change did not arrive quickly, and the process of opening up to love and nonjudgment and imperfection and trust, etc., is ongoing. We wish people would not use violence to get their needs met, and the solution may be to teach them new ways, help meet their human needs in ways that discourage violence. Posts like this seem to be part of the solution. Much support for you on pink shirt day

  6. It is so stupid to take your frustration out on others or to inflate your ego by putting others down. I’ve never understood it and I never will.
    I know it ruins lives and can leave deep scars in people. ‘Just being assertive’ won’t always help and to target the bullies can have a temporary effect (I think). The most important is the middle group. We need to speak up and give a sign that it’s not ok. Like the Pink Shirts. In that way the bullies won’t get the attention they (maybe) want.

  7. I hadn’t heard of Pink Shirt Day before but that’s a fantastic initiative. I think more countries should take a lesson from Canada. Bullying really can impact mental health and, as much as we may want to say ‘get over it’ or that time heals all wounds, it can sadly have a long-lasting, deep effect throughout life.xx

  8. I’m so sorry you were bullied, Ashley! Bullying is one of the worst things a person can go through.

    What you posted is absolutely true! Bullying in school caused me to have severe depression. It got so bad that I attempted suicide when I was 14 and almost didn’t make it.

    I wasn’t bullied as an adult until my late thirties. I suffered workplace bullying in the nursing home I worked it. However, I was able to stay a few steps ahead of the bullies and quit on my own terms. It’s sad that most adults aren’t as fortunate as I was.

    Thank you for posting! Awareness of bullying in all age groups must be spread!

    And know that none of it was your fault and that there are people who are!

    1. Thanks lovely! Yes, this is definitely a topic thtat people need to be aware of. It causes so much damage to so many people, and I think it’s important that we share our stories and support each other.

  9. I love the idea of pink shirt day. It reminds me of Red Ribbon Week in the United States. Sorry to hear about your workplace bullying. This is why I love speaking to students in schools about bullying and treating other with kindness and respect because as you mentioned in your post, it effects people’s mental stability long-term. Thanks for sharing your story.

  10. I have been bullied for 8 yrs by my boss and his boss in corporate America. Before that, I worked with a group of mean girls for years. I don’t have any answers on how to deal with it. Most of the time I try to ignore it, which is really outwardly pretending their behavior didn’t bother me, but storing all those negative emotions inside. I am overweight and struggle with depression, so that strategy works well! Leaving and finding another job is easier than it sounds and I could end up in a worse situation. So for now, I just keep doing my job the best I can and trust people that know me see the truth.

    We need laws in place to criminalize bullying. The impact to the surivor is often worse than if they were physically harmed. Plus mental health needs to be more of a focus in the workplace.

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