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Can Bullying Lead to Depression?

Can Bullying Lead Depression Kids Teens

Bullying has always been around in one form or another. Bullying is an unwanted or aggressive behavior inflicted by someone who intends to harm or coerce. If you never struggled with bullying as a child, you can probably think of at least one instance when you’ve experienced it as an adult. As adults, we’ve learned how to recognize bullies. Most of us know how to walk away or shut them down. But for children, bullying can be devastating. Sometimes it can even lead to depression, self-harm, or suicide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six students will experience bullying on and off school property. Sun Behavioral Health Columbus takes this seriously. We know how harmful it can be. We believe that by educating our community, we can reduce or eliminate bullying altogether. This article will go into what bullying looks like, its long-term effects, and how you can help your child overcome the damage it causes.

What Does Bullying Look Like?

When most people think of bullying, they might picture physical violence. That’s still happening – some children use physical force to get something they want, to intimidate others, or to gain a sense of control. Today, we know bullying isn’t just physical. A bully will use three main avenues:

  • Physical bullying. Physicality is used to assert control. This can be anything from hitting to shoving someone in a locker or a trash can. Any time someone uses physical force in an aggressive manner, it’s considered bullying. If the person being touched doesn’t want to be touched and hasn’t offered consent, it is off limits in school. Ohio, for example, has very strict anti-bullying laws in its school districts. If a child violates these laws, they will receive a punishment. Physical bullying is usually easy to see, catch, and prove. Other types of bullying are just as harmful, but they can’t always be proven.
  • Verbal bullying. Verbal bullying can be incredibly harmful to a child’s self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. It can be in the form of name-calling, teasing, manipulating, or threatening. Teachers and parents can’t always see this happening. It’s important that the bullied child  feels empowered to talk about it with someone they trust.
  • Cyberbullying. Without a doubt, cyberbullying has become the most common form of intimidation. It’s also the easiest with social media providing the perfect platform. Cyberbullying can look like demeaning photos, cruel comments, hacking into someone’s account, sharing personal information with others, and more. Fortunately, cyberbullying usually leaves a paper trail. Unfortunately, cyberbullying usually occurs outside of school. Some school boards will include cyberbullying in their anti-bullying rules, but some will not.

The Effect Bullying Can Have on Your Kids

Childhood and adolescence are raw times for most people. This is the case even if bullying is not present. The brain isn’t fully formed yet, and children are still learning about how to interact with the world around them. They’re at an age where they’re unsure of who they are, what they stand for, and what matters to them. This makes them particularly vulnerable when it comes to criticism.

The urge to “fit in” is also strong in children and teens. They place a lot of pressure on what their peers think of them. When their self-image is threatened through bullying, a child might feel like they’ve failed. They might focus less on their schoolwork and more on getting others to like them. This can lead to a drop in grades, which also affects their sense of self-esteem.

Victims of bullying often experience a “snowball effect” of emotions and actions. In the beginning, they might feel confused or hurt. As the bullying increases in frequency, the victim might begin to feel enraged, worthless, and sometimes eventually depressed. Your child might show signs of depression if they are being bullied. This can look like:

  • Isolating from family and friends (staying in their room most of the time)
  • Crying spells
  • Change in behavior or personality
  • Not eating enough
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Self-harm (like cutting)
  • Lack of interest in activities or schoolwork
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Repetitive thoughts of death or suicide
  • Lashing out, anger, or aggression

These behaviors appear differently from child to child, but they’re all typically present in one form or another. They don’t change too much between boys and girls, either. With boys, you might see more anger and aggression, whereas with girls you may notice more isolation. But both boys and girls are at risk for all these symptoms when experiencing depression.

If you begin to notice signs of depression in your child, it can feel overwhelming. Some parents feel at a loss because nothing they say or do seems to help. It’s important to understand that depression is treatable, and it doesn’t always last forever. Your child may need treatment, healthy coping strategies, a change in their group of friends, or more.

Can Bullying Lead to Suicide?

Bullying does not always lead to suicidal thoughts, tendencies, or behaviors. Many children are bullied in school without the experience of the “snowball effect” we discussed earlier. If your child is experiencing signs of depression, however, this is a cause for concern.

It’s scary to think about your child thinking and feeling suicidal. Especially if they’re not talking to you about it. By observing their behaviors, talking to them in-depth, and providing them with a safe space to confide, you can help.

Finding Treatment for Bullying and Depression

Depression almost always needs treatment to find relief.

Noticing the signs of depression in your child is usually the first step. This is difficult. Many children simply going through puberty will exhibit signs of aggression, behavioral changes, or changes in sleep patterns. It’s important that your child feels like they can come to you with what’s going on in their life. They need a judgment-free zone to be vulnerable in, and you can provide this for them. Sometimes that means simply listening rather than offering advice. Your child needs to feel safe when they talk to you.

Treatment for adolescent depression doesn’t typically revolve around medication. Some parents worry about seeking treatment for their children because they don’t want to put them on antidepressants. Yes, there are times when medication might be recommended. Usually, childhood treatment for depression revolves around individual therapy, group therapy, and education on how to reroute negative thinking. An adolescent therapy program can be highly valuable and effective for your child. What they learn in therapy will help them manage their emotions, which is helpful for many years.

Suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and tendencies aren’t always easy to detect. If your child participates in self-harm, they’ll likely do this privately. Be on the lookout for any signs of depression, and openly discuss those signs with your child. Let them know they’re not alone and that many kids their age are dealing with it too.

At Sun Behavioral Health Columbus, we know how hard it can be to watch someone you love suffer at the hands of bullies. We also know the lasting damage it can do. We partner with schools and social service agencies to solve the mental health needs caused by bullying. Our top priority is to deliver positive outcomes for our patients and their families, from education to programs that save lives and enhance their quality of life. To learn more about our services or to learn more about teen depression, please call us at (614) 706-2786.

FAQs About Can Bullying Lead to Depression

What mental health issues do bullies have?

It can be challenging  to understand bullying. Many try to rationalize bully behavior by connecting it to a mental health condition. Sometimes, this is the case. Some bullies suffer from mental conditions such as anxiety, depression, sociopathy, or narcissism. Bullies’ behavior can also be due to issues at home like neglect, poverty, or a lack of parental nurturing.

Is bullying in adolescence associated with the development of depressive symptoms in adulthood?

Yes. Depression can begin with a child being bullied. This is why treatment is so important. Seeking treatment when your child is depressed will decrease the likelihood of depressive symptoms in adulthood. It will also teach them how to manage and quell the symptoms of depression while they’re young, which is an invaluable skill.

Where did the term “bully” come from?

In the 16th century, “bully” actually meant “lover!” In the 1700s, the term was coined to include “fine fellow” or “friend.” From there, it morphed into “scallywag”, which eventually morphed into “mobbing.” Then, a researcher and doctor from the 20th century used the term “bullying” in a clinical sense – referring to an act of aggression upon a child. This is how we use the term today.

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