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Study: Teen Bullying Victims Struggle with Mental Health, Unemployment

June 03, 2019

Life as a bullied teen can be anxious and intolerable, but the effects of unaddressed behavior can linger long after days on the schoolyard or in the gym locker room.

A recently released British study indicates that victims of teenage bullying are 40 percent more likely to grapple with mental health problems and 35 percent more likely to be unemployed as adults. Those who are employed earned less money than those who did not report being bullied as a teen.

Laura Saunders, PsyD, ABPP, clinical coordinator of the LGBTQ Specialty Track in Young Adult Services at the Institute of Living (IOL), said the study results are not surprising given the pervasiveness of bullying.

“Bullying by definition is a power differential that is ongoing, chronic and intended to cause harm,” she said. “When you look at how complex trauma such as bullying affects adolescents going into adulthood, you realize the more subtle bullying means the effects take longer to manifest.”

Bullying can include physical or emotional attacks, in person or through social media, and typically exacerbate life’s other struggles for teens, Saunders said.

“The people who are bullied are those who tend to have other vulnerabilities like being of lower socio-economic status, from single-parent homes, etc.,” she said. “Victims tend to not ‘fit in’ with their peers, are socially isolated and insecure, and often hold negative views of themselves and their situation.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 28 percent of students in grades six to 12 report being bullied at some point in their lives, with cyberbullying being more prominent in high school and physical attacks more common in middle school.

Saunders’ professional experience indicates that those who are bullied and those who bully others are more likely to experience:

  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Increased thoughts of suicide
  • Increased substance abuse rates
  • Decreased academic performance
  • Diminished earning potential

All youths coming to the IOL for services are asked about any experience with bullying because Saunders said, “We recognize it is an issue that affects the rest of their lives.”

The best approach to overcome bullying as a teen, she said, includes:

  • Identifying what is happening and validating the experience by talking about it with others like parents, teachers, counselors or trusted friends.
  • Developing the skills to combat future bullying contacts so it does not affect their overall sense of identity.
  • Developing the skills to manage complex trauma so the bullying does not continue to happen.

“It’s important for parents, teachers and other adults to encourage teens to stand up more and challenge the bullies, even in small ways,” Saunders said. “Bullying is often a silent experience so it can be empowering to find out you’re not alone by telling someone.”

Parents might try extricating details by simply asking regularly about their teen’s day and being in tuned to changes in behavior and mood, including:

  • Moodiness
  • Reluctance to go to school or activities
  • Change in friendships, or self isolation
  • Frequent stomachaches or headaches
  • Trouble sleeping

Adults experiencing the residual effects of bullying should seek support and treatment that can include validation and starting the healing process by acknowledging the effects of the bullying, Saunders added.

For more information on treatment for bullying or other mental health issues, go to www.instituteofliving.org.