Depression and low mood

Bullying and depression

Most of the young people we spoke with had experienced bullying. For many, the bullying had gone on for years and taken many forms; verbal, physical, emotional, mental, and for some, had been very violent. Almost without exception young people said the ongoing bullying, in whatever form, had had a deep and lasting effect on them. The bullying was often the main trigger or cause of their mental health problems.

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The experience of bullying
For some, the bullying had started in primary school, as young as at 5 or 6. Others had enjoyed their primary school years but then the bullying started when they moved up to secondary school or when they moved to a new area and had been ‘the new kid in school’.

Many said they had been bullied because they were “different” and “didn’t fit in”. Many had felt they didn’t “blend in” with the cliques that were forming in school and found it hard to make any friends who would stand by them. Being too smart or having learning difficulties had also given an excuse for the bullies to take it out on those who stood out from the crowd in any way.

A few people had been bullied because of their appearance. One young man suffered bad side effects from his epilepsy medication; shaking, acne and boils on his face, which he was teased about. A couple of young girls had been bullied because of their weight, which led to them to stop eating, and at worst, to develop anorexia or bulimia.

Several said they’d been a target for bullies because they were shy and lacked confidence. A couple said they just wanted to do well in school and to enjoy learning.

School’s response to bullying
Most people described their school’s response to bullying as non-existent or ineffective. One woman said her school was very aware of the bullying but never intervened as the school’s official line was that “there is no bullying in this school”. A couple of people had attempted to report the bullying for years but no intervention had followed. Some also said they never bothered to report the bullying because they lacked any faith in the school to improve the situation. A few had got into trouble for reporting the bullying, and ended up being blamed for bad behaviour themselves. One woman was told she was just “overreacting” and another one was accused of “making it all up”.

 
Finding support for bullying
Quite a few people had told their parents about bullying, who as a consequence tried to support them and intervene the best they could. A couple of people said their parents had been to school every other week trying to sort it out, often with no outcome. People had also hoped to be able to rely on a trusted friend or friends to “stick up for them” and to defend them. Many had no trusted friends or alternatively their friends were too quiet and shy to feel able to step in. A couple said their only friends were in fact the bullies who would be friends with them outside of school but who switched to bullies in school time. Few people never told at home about the bullying because, as one young woman put it”; I didn’t want to cause any more trouble really”.
 
A couple of people had ended up having to change schools or be home schooled as the only way to stop the bullying.
 
Long term effects of bullying
To avoid the bullying, people often started missing lessons or not going to school at all. Their school work suffered and many described slipping to the bottom of the class'
 
“I just stopped talking and telling people it. I just stopped even bothering like, I didn’t see the point, I stopped doing work, I just stopped like bothering in lessons, whereas when I went there I was top of the class for everything, now I was just sinking further and further down. And I just wasn’t doing well.”
 
Many said their already low self-esteem plummeted further and they’d lost all self confidence. They’d started to believe the bullies and thought they really were “ugly”, “fat” and “a freak”. A couple said they’d tried to “conform” to please the bullies and if this failed, they felt even worse about themselves.
 
Several people said the bullying was the major factor in them developing mental health problems; anxiety, depression and phobias a few had developed agoraphobia and were not able to leave the house and a couple developed a social phobia of being around people.
 
The lack of intervention and support led to some people self harming; often by cutting themselves. One person said she’d stopped caring about herself as nobody else seemed to care about her wellbeing either. For some, cutting made the bullying even worse as their class mates would bully them and make hurtful jokes about the visible cuts and scars.
For helplines and other resources please see our ‘Resources’ section.

Last reviewed December 2013.

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