A young male teen being cyberbullied under a blanket at home.

How Being a Victim of Teen Bullying Could Affect Your Mental Health

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Bullying can have short-term and long-term effects on your mental health. Here’s what you can do about it.

Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Jaime Ballard

Do people call you names, make fun of you, start rumors about you, physically hurt you, or purposely exclude you at school or online? If so, you might be a victim of bullying or cyberbullying. 

Bullying usually occurs when there’s some kind of power dynamic involved. This could mean that your bully considers themselves to be more powerful than you, whether they’re bigger and stronger than you, more “popular” than you, or they have some kind of information that they can use against you.

Regardless of how or where you’re getting bullied, it can be really difficult to cope with. You may experience embarrassment, sadness, fear, and loneliness as a result of bullying. In severe cases, being a bullied teen, along with other factors, may even lead to suicidal behavior.

The effects of bullying can take a serious toll on a young person and their mental health, both now and later in life. Here’s what you need to know about bullying and its mental health impacts.

What are the different types of school bullying and cyberbullying? 

Bullying comes in various forms. Any type of bullying can lead to poor mental health outcomes. The main types of bullying include:

Verbal bullying

This is when bullies use words to hurt you. For example, they may insult you, tease you, call you names, use offensive words, spread rumors, or verbally threaten you. They might use slurs that are racist, homophobic, or ableist. They may also purposely exclude you from conversations or activities. 

Physical bullying

This is the most outwardly obvious form of school bullying. Bullies may trip, shove, hit, or pinch you. Sexual bullying may also occur, which is when there’s unwanted, non-consensual sexual physical contact. 

Cyberbullying

This type of bullying occurs virtually over social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, or over text messages. A cyberbully might post mean or false things about you on social media, leave insulting comments on your posts, or generally harass you online. 

How common is bullying?

Teen bullying is sadly all too common. Although many schools do have bullying prevention programs in effect, the behavior still occurs often. Based on student surveys, it’s estimated that 20% of teens in the United States, or 1 in 5, have been bullied in middle school and high school. That means being a victim of school bullying is the reality for one in five young adults. 

Certain marginalized groups may be more prone to being a victim of bullying due to various prejudices. One recent survey found that the rates of identity-based bullying were highest in gender-diverse Black and Hispanic kids and teens. This includes people who identify as trans, genderqueer, or non-binary. Additionally, youths with disabilities are up to three times more likely to be a victim of bullying than non-disabled classmates.

Unsurprisingly, the grounds of middle school and high school are common places for bullying to occur. A survey of ninth through twelfth graders found that 19% of them were bullied on school property –– most commonly in the halls, classrooms, or cafeteria. 

In-person school bullying isn’t the only battle teens have to face, though. Cyberbullying is also a concern, and it’s even more prevalent than in-person bullying. With teens spending countless hours on social media and having increased access to online communications, cyberbullying has become increasingly prevalent. Some bullies may feel “safer” hiding behind a screen than bullying victims in person.

37% of 12-17 year olds have been victims of cyberbullying, with some estimates putting the number even higher at 6 in 10. However, some groups of teens are even more likely to be bullied online, including girls and LGBTQIA+ teens. For example, around 50% of LGBTQIA+ students are cyberbullied.

Being a young person who’s the victim of bullying can make you feel very isolated. You may feel like you’re the only person in school, or even in the world, who’s feeling this pain. But if you’re dealing with bullies, whether in-person or online, know that you’re far from alone. Sadly, many other teens and young adults are in your shoes, dealing with the same struggles that you are.  

Hopefully, as awareness continues to raise surrounding bullying and its harmful effects on mental health, bullying prevention efforts will become more widespread and effective, resulting in less of this very harmful behavior. 

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How does bullying affect teen and young adults’ mental health?

Unfortunately, bullying can cause serious mental health issues in a young person if they don’t take action. 

Since bullies go to great lengths to make you feel bad about yourself, whether they’re calling you names, insulting you, or spreading rumors about you, bullying can cause your self-esteem and self-confidence to take a hit. Ultimately, this behavior can lead you to feel like you’re unlovable or less than others. You might even become increasingly self-critical or hard on yourself, questioning if the insults that the bullies are throwing at you are true. In turn, due to the loss of self-esteem and related behaviors, you might end up isolating yourself away from others, which can ultimately make you feel even worse. 

Being bullied can also lead to poor mental health and conditions such as depression and anxiety. It’s important to be aware of the signs of these conditions so you can identify how you’re feeling and get help.

Some common symptoms of depression are:

  • Low mood
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Thoughts of death or suicide 

Some common symptoms of anxiety are: 

  • Having worry, stress, or fear that interferes with daily life
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling like you can’t control your emotions
  • Physical sensations like a racing heart, sweating, or feeling dizzy 

Substance abuse is another potential problem among victims of bullying. Researchers have found that people being bullied have a higher risk of using and abusing alcohol, cigarettes, and cannabis.  

Being bullied and having mental health issues like anxiety and depression can lead to health complaints. For example, you might get sick a lot, feel tired, or have unexplained aches, pains, or gut issues. Research has found that kids and teens who are bullied were more likely to report poorer health than those who aren’t bullied. In one study, researchers tracked over 11,000 students and concluded, “Children and adolescents who are bullied appear to more often experience depression, difficulties falling asleep, dizziness, and poor health.” 

Furthermore, bullying can affect your performance at school. For example, if you’re being bullied, your grades might drop and you may be more likely to skip days of middle school or high school. 

These short-term effects of school bullying and cyberbullying may progress and evolve into long-term struggles and poor mental health, particularly if you don’t take action to take care of yourself and seek help when the problems start. The struggles can continue into adulthood. 

Research shows that kids and teens who were victims of bullying are more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or depression in adulthood. The risk increases as the frequency and severity of bullying increase. Essentially, the more you’re severely bullied over time, the more your risk for mental health conditions later in adulthood increases. Even more troublesome, the researchers found a link between being bullied and suicidal behavior in adolescence, stating that teens who were bullied were more prone to “having suicidal ideation, attempts and completed suicides.”

Further research has found that victims of bullying are also at higher risk for psychiatric hospitalization in adulthood due to poor mental health. 

All of this is evidence of how detrimental the mental health impacts of bullying can potentially be. However, this isn’t to say that being bullied does not guarantee that you’ll face mental health issues in adulthood. Proactively taking action to make positive changes in your life, address your problems head-on, and reaching out for support can help reduce your risk. 

Teenage crying in a hallway alone because she is being bullied

How to take care of your mental health if you’re being bullied

It’s critical to take care of yourself and your mental health if you’re being bullied to make sure you reduce the risk of mental health issues down the road. Taking care of yourself now and seeking mental health treatment when necessary will benefit both your current self and your future self.

Here are some positive steps you can take if you’re dealing with bullying.

  1. Remember you’re not alone
    You are never alone, even though being a victim of bullying might make it feel like you are. Many others are going through what you’re dealing with, and it’s likely that if you open up to trusted friends about your struggles, they’ll be able to empathize and share similar stories. 
  2. Bring up the bullying to a trusted adult
    If bullies aren’t intervened or specifically stopped, they’ll probably just keep on bullying. That’s why it’s so important to tell a trusted adult like a parent, teacher, counselor, therapist, principal, or school social worker. They can help safely address the school bullying or cyberbullying problem directly. This is key for future bullying prevention, too. 
  3. Practice self-care
    Be kind to yourself and take care of yourself as you’re going through this tough time. Self-care looks different for everyone, but some ideas are:
  1. Consider therapy
    Many kids, teens, and young adults benefit from mental health treatment such as individual therapy. Working with a mental health professional can give you an outlet to talk about the problems you’ve been facing, learn coping skills, and figure out healthy solutions. This can be especially helpful if you feel like you’re experiencing low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. You may want to see if your school has a social worker or psychologist who you can work with. If, however, weekly talk therapy isn’t providing you with the level of care you need, an intensive outpatient program might be a better fit for your mental health goals. 

What to do if you’re in a mental health crisis

Bullying can be really, really hard to deal with. If the emotional pain and suffering you’re experiencing right now feel like too much to bear and you’re having thoughts about harming yourself or others or experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. 

Some free, confidential, and 24/7 resources for immediate help in a mental health crisis include:

  • 988: 988 is the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. You can simply call or text 9-8-8 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor in your area. An online chat option is available, too.
  • Crisis Text Line: Crisis Text Line is a text message-based service. To be connected to a trained crisis counselor, text HOME to 741741. You can even do this on WhatsApp. 
  • The Trevor Project: If you’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community and looking for crisis support from someone who specializes in the unique challenges you face, The Trevor Project is a great resource. You can call them at 1-866-488-7386, text them ‘START’ to 678-678, or use their online chat.

Please note that these crisis phone or message options are not a substitute for mental health treatment. They are meant strictly for use in mental health crises or emergencies, such as if you’re exhibiting suicidal behavior. In these cases, it’s crucial to seek formal mental health treatment after the crisis to learn how to manage this behavior and the difficult emotions you’re facing as a bullied teen. 

How Charlie Health can help

We know that every teen and young adult has their own unique mental health journey, and everyone faces different struggles. That’s why we offer personalized intensive outpatient mental health treatment for teens, young adults, and families dealing with a variety of struggles, including the mental health effects of bullying. Every client is matched with a therapist who fits their specific needs, and will also be matched with a group of peers who are from similar.

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