How Bullying Affects Mental Health

Signs and Ways of Protection

Children often look forward to their time at school. They enjoy learning, being with friends, making new friends and playing. However not all children have a positive experience. Unchecked school bullying can affect children’s mental health.

According to research, 49% of children in grades 4 through 12 reported being bullied. Bullying occurs not only at school, but through online forums, emails, and cell phones. Most bullying takes place in school but can occur wherever children gather in the community. 

Bullying can include:

  • Teasing
  • Name-calling
  • Threatening 
  • Physical attacks
  • Excluding a student from social activities
  • Spreading lies and rumors

Children who are bullied may be seen as vulnerable, “not cool”, not having many friends, and may be seen as “different” (race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual preferences, etc.) The truth is, any child can become a victim of bullying at any given time. 

Signs Your Child is being Bullied

Your child may not tell you they are being bullied. If you are a parent, there are certain signs to watch for indicating that your child is being bullied at school. 

According to Parent Tool Kit, signs may include:

  • A change in demeanor
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Unwillingness to go to school
  • Grades may fall 
  • There may be a loss of friends

Additional signs can include social isolation, a change in eating habits, bedwetting, anxiety or depression or frequent psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, tummy aches, not feeling well, and so forth.

What to do if you (or your child) is being Bullied

If you are a child and are being bullied, or if your child is being bullied, there are things you can do. Importantly, children should know they can talk to parents about bullying.

Inform a parent, a school counselor, teacher, or administration for intervention. Children who are being bullied can also discuss the bullying with a peer (friend). Research has shown that 57% of bullying stops when a peer intervenes on their behalf.  You can also call the “No Bully” help hotline at 1-866-488-7386.

Bullying and Mental Health

Bullying is a serious issue and can lead to mental health problems, and even suicide. While most children who are bullied do not have thoughts of suicide, suicide ideation may occur and is a serious concern. 

Bullying can have a lasting effect on mental health. A study found that children who were bullied frequently were more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder as an adult. There is also a link between bullying and childhood mental health problems such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and an increased risk for suicide.  

In some cases, bullying may be so traumatic it leads to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Children who are bullied are at risk for social, emotional and psychological impairment if intervention is not provided.

According to the National Institute for Health, children who are victims of bullying are at an increased risk for mental health issues, substance abuse, physical injury, social and emotional problems, and violence to others later in life. Professionals urge that supports and proper mental health treatment be put in place for children who are victims of bullying in order to negate the potential consequences of bullying. 

How Bullying Affects Mental Health - About Islam

Protective Factors 

It is important to teach children about bullying and appropriate behavior from an early age. When a child knows what behaviors are acceptable and which are not, it provides a platform for comparison. If a child is taught to be respectful, kind, and have empathy, they will likely expect to be treated that way. 

It is proactive to teach children what healthy behavior looks like as well as non-healthy behavior. This sets a standard and can be an impetus for discussion should a child experience unhealthy (bullying) behaviors from others. Treating your child with kindness, respect, and dignity is also a protective factor.

Children who are treated well at home generally do not expect to be mistreated outside of the home and will be more likely to disclose what is happening to them. If a child is not raised to believe they are worthy of good treatment they may accept bullying behaviors as a norm. Protective factors begin in the home.

Reducing the Mental Health Outcomes of Bullying

Resilience includes using the family structure as an intervention and mediating point and has a protective effect regarding mental health outcomes of bullying. Children who talk about being bullied reduce mental health risks by processing and making sense about what happened rather than burying it.

The family is the foundation for protection, comfort and problem solving.  A family can utilize the wisdom and guidance of Islam to assist in dealing with bullying. An example would be the hadith stating:

” When you go to your bed, recite Ayat-al-Kursi, (2.255) for then there will be a guard from Allah who will protect you all night long, and Satan will not be able to come near you till dawn.” Bukhari

This Ayat can be utilized any time a danger is perceived.

Children with a solid foundation of emotional resilience feel accepted at home and other places. When children feel valued and accepted for who they are, they are better able to cope with stress and negativity, thus reducing mental health risks insha’Allah.

As parents we want our children to feel confident so that if they experience something as serious as bullying, they will be able to be resilient and bounce back. We want to have an open door policy where our children can talk to us about anything without feeling shame, embarrassment, or feel that we will not take them seriously. 

Inspiring positive emotions in children is a protective factor as well. Do so with messages of affirmation and hope.  Encouraging children to find pleasure and joy in life can often act as a buffer and counterbalance, negating bullying risks.

Expose children to positive engagements such as hobbies, charity, going to Islamic events, and activities with friends who are positive. It is important to facilitate the forming of healthy social connections as it is a negating factor when there are mental health risks due to bullying. 

Helping children find an area of interest that they can excel in increases their self-confidence and self-worth. This can also deter the mental health outcomes of being bullied. High levels of support increase a child’s ability to handle bullying.

Children who practice mindfulness have better mental health outcomes if they are bullied. Mindfulness enables a child to become aware of and regulate their emotions. It helps in remaining calm even in the face of bullying. This can be empowering for the child.  

Providing a warm, loving environment wherein a child is valued and heard and building resiliency are strong points for reducing the mental health risks of bullying.

Offering essential coping tools, as well as providing direct intervention and support in situations of bullying also helps to negate any mental health effects that bullying may produce. While bullying may never be eliminated in society, there is much we can do to prepare our children to be safe and healthy, both in the short and long term outcomes.

About Aisha Mohammad
Aisha received her PhD in psychology in 2000 and an MS in public health in 2009. Aisha worked as a Counselor/Psychologist for 12 years for Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center in New York. Aisha specializes in trauma, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, marriage/relationships issues, as well as community-cultural dynamics. She is certified in Restorative Justice/ Healing Circles, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and is also a certified Life Coach.
Aisha works at a Family Resource Center, and has a part-time practice in which she integrates healing and spirituality using a holistic approach. Aisha plans to open a holistic care counseling center for Muslims and others in the New York area in the future, in sha' Allah. Aisha is also a part of several organizations that advocate for social & food justice. In her spare time she enjoys her family, martial arts classes, Islamic studies as well as working on her book and spoken word projects.