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Depression and low mood (young people)

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.

 

Erika-Maye was pushed down the stairs, spat at and poked with compasses.

Erika-Maye was pushed down the stairs, spat at and poked with compasses.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I used to get pushed down stairs a lot, people would swear at me and spit at me, throw compasses at me. My friend who tried to kill herself, she cut her wrists in front of me, and I told one of my then friends about it, we then fell out, and she spread it round. Because I’d then developed a thing where I could not have my wrists exposed, I got very edgy about that, people then took to drawing red lines over their wrists and waving them in my face. And throwing compasses at me, throwing rocks at my head. General nastiness, just being quite cruel, making comments because I’m not stick thin and because I’m not particularly attractive. I would have remarks like that told to me everywhere and it was just quite a nasty school. But, I don’t know, I just stopped going after a while, I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to be there which is strange because I’ve always loved learning. I’ve always, always loved it, but I just couldn’t face going to school.

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’.

 

Sarah was bullied in the new school as she was smarter than others and stood out.

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Sarah was bullied in the new school as she was smarter than others and stood out.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I started and because I went to a, I was enrolled to go to one of the sort of gifted and talented schools and I hadn’t got in. And I’d ended up in like the rubbish school for all the thick people and things like that. And it was really like you felt really, I felt really bad about that then, but then when I went there and realised that I was so much, like I was smarter than other people, other people picked up on that and sort of started bullying me for it. And as well as that I didn’t know anybody else there, there was just me so I didn’t have anybody to stand up for me, it sort of started within the first week.
 
I mean everybody picks on, picked on the year 7s anyway, it was like ‘cos they’re like you’re in that. But like they sort of target, seemed to target me more than other people, like locking us in the toilets so I’d miss lessons, and the teachers would come and shout at me for not being in lessons, I’d go, “well I was locked in the toilet, you know I couldn’t exactly get out.”  

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.

 

Lisa was bullied because she had some learning difficulties and dyslexia. She came home in tears...

Lisa was bullied because she had some learning difficulties and dyslexia. She came home in tears...

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I was four years old when I started school, and all the way through reception I was picked on. You know the kids always found something to pick on me for, I mean when I was in the High School, the mainstream High School they’d pick on me ‘cos I couldn’t tell the time and stuff like that. And it, now, looking back on it now makes me laugh because half of the kids in my class had special needs and they were the ones that picked on me. Whether it was ‘cos they couldn’t cope with it themselves, but they did have special needs and it was like, “Well you’ve got learning problems as well, why are you picking on me?” you know, I used to get so depressed. I’d come home in tears nearly every day. I mean I got cut with a razor blade in front of the teacher, and then when the questioned the teacher she said, “Oh I don’t know anything about it.” So, there was, and of course then going home that evening, I was in tears. Most evenings I was in tears when I came home from school, nearly every single evening if you ask my Mum or my Dad, every single evening they had to calm me down because I’d be in tears.
 

Cat says that if you don’t have the right brands and wear the right clothes, you’re “a sitting...

Cat says that if you don’t have the right brands and wear the right clothes, you’re “a sitting...

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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And at the time I thought it was normal, it was a part of reality of life, didn’t think it was a problem. And it then became when I started year 10, the bullying got physical and it became to the point of I was beaten up, had cracked ribs, was beaten home from, home from school, I was made to sit on chairs with drawing pins, on my last day of GCSE exam I was pelted with stones and bricks, that was outside, just outside the school gates. And it was just pointless. There was no means for it, but if the way that it was, it was like if you don’t wear the right hair band, the right trainers, the right brands, that’s it, you’re a sitting target. If you’re not, if you’re not popular, that’s it, you just don’t meet the needs for it and that’s unfortunately I was a sitting target.
 
And through the physical bullying, I mean one of the worst experiences that I had and I still remember it to this day, I actually had, I was pinned against the wall with two girls and had toilet tissue with liquid soap wrapped round it and stuffed in my mouth to make me choke. And I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I used, had a lot of anger against it. I don’t anymore, but it still is a big issue.
 

Mandy was bullied because she didn't 'fit in' and she developed earlier than most other girls.

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Mandy was bullied because she didn't 'fit in' and she developed earlier than most other girls.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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It started in primary school, I’m not the sort of person that makes friends easily, or if I make them I find it very hard to keep them, because I’m not you know one of the sort of stereotypical popular girls, I don’t do the sort of going out and stuff, I’d rather stay in and you know watch DVDs and whatever rather than go, “Oh, you know make up, aah, lets go out and shop.” It’s not really my sort of thing, funny. And wasn’t at that time so I didn’t quite fit in, I never quite fitted in primary school.
 
So, they picked up on that and anything they could sort of taunt me about they would and I developed a lot earlier than the rest of the girls and that was sort of one of the main sticking points was you know, “Ooh look at her,” you know, “She’s got this, she’s got that,” you know. Natural bodily parts developing but not according to primary school, and it just, it ended up any sort of moment, it was verbal and physical bullying so,

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.

 

As a result of the bullying, Ruby started to believe that she was “ugly” and had “a hideous...

As a result of the bullying, Ruby started to believe that she was “ugly” and had “a hideous...

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
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I did quite well in primary school, like socially and stuff, like, not Miss Popular, but just got on really well with stuff and then when I started at comprehensive school, after about six months I was bullied, what’s the word, Intermittently? Lots. And then, and they the main thing was that they said that I looked like a pig. And I’d have comments like, “How can I concentrate on the lesson when I’ve got an extra from Planet of the Apes sat next to me?” In art class they’d draw pigs and put my name on the top and stuff like that. So my rationale was that if I was thinner my nose would be thinner and they wouldn’t be able to take the piss. That was my rationale in losing weight in the first place, like, I used to walk around town or school or anywhere like that, I was terrified of being seen anywhere, so I always used to pretend I was scratching my eyebrows or something, to hide my nose, ‘cos I really, I genuinely was made to believe that I had this hideous deformity, like I would hit myself in the face with a hairbrush and stuff in the hope that I would break my nose and have it re-shapen, or something really ridiculous. I genuinely was led to believe that I was that ugly that even walking down the street people were staring at me and stuff. And it’s like utter crap like, but at the time I was, it was so incessant, that’s the word, incessant, I was, I totally believed it, hook line, hook line and sinker.
 
I remember when I went for my GCSE’s; I didn’t even go back to the school to pick up my results. I just waited for them to come through the post, that’s how much I hated it, I just, I was terrified of being seen.

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.

 

Loz was shy and “didn’t want to stand out”. He just wanted to get on with his school work.

Loz was shy and “didn’t want to stand out”. He just wanted to get on with his school work.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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I wouldn’t really sort of voice my opinion too much, I mean I was, I guess I really didn’t want to be sort of like seen as anyone just in the corner, I’d be, I’d be fine sort of just doing my work really. I was I was quite, I wouldn’t say sort of like hard working, but I’d try and do my best, I mean I wasn’t that that sort of like academically good in sort of like, when I was in [school name], and I got, it’s like a, two threes and a four in my first SAT’s which I guess would be sort of get two Cs and a B sort of now. But, apart from that I was, well I was just shy. I didn’t really think I’d made too much of a, like a bother of myself. I didn’t wanna stand out or sort of get into trouble, so I always wanted to be sort of good, but, you always got the sort of like the times in the classroom where the teacher went out and I used to sort of well do the flicky with the pencils in the ceiling, and they’d all get stuck, that sort of thing, I mean, school, school kid stuff.

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.
 

After years of being bullied herself, Jo “became a bully”.

After years of being bullied herself, Jo “became a bully”.

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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I went from really quiet and extremely shy and then I, like in the 5th grade I became a bully, basically, I suddenly started turning the exact opposite, and that , I ended up having kind of, it was very effective in the sense that like I wasn’t being bullied by other people anymore. I was still considered to be weird and an outsider but at least I wasn’t picked on the same way I was before. And then people just assumed that that is part of your personality, and nobody really asks questions about that.
 

Helena developed agoraphobia as a result of bullying at home and in school.

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Helena developed agoraphobia as a result of bullying at home and in school.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I was around fourteen when I feel the bullying got worse and started affecting my mental health. Most of the bullying was at home, from my dad, and on my street, by my so called friends. I did get nasty comments in school, people calling me ‘freak’ etc but it was worst at home. My dad would constantly put me down, and when I played out with my friends on the street I often got put down and called names, made fun of etc. It seemed everyone wanted to pick on me, probably because I couldn’t fight back.
 
As I had all my troubles with school and bullying I got more anxious and ended up feeling huge anxiety over just leaving the house as I felt when I went out people were staring at me because I was ugly, and that they wanted to insult me. I eventually became quite agoraphobic and didn’t want to walk down the street.
 

Bullying “mentally and physically scars you for life”, says Lisa. She confronted one of her...

Bullying “mentally and physically scars you for life”, says Lisa. She confronted one of her...

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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And something like that (bullying) it does scar you for life, people don’t see it, but in mentally and physically scars you for life. I mean I’ve bumped into a girl that used to bully me when I was in High School, she was in my primary school as well, and she said, “Oh how are you?” I said, “I’ve got mental health problems now.” She said, “Why?” I said, I said, “I suffer from depression.” “How come?” I said, “Because you and your friends used to bully me,” I said, “It’s mentally scarred me.” And she was like, “Oh I’m so sorry.” I said, “Yeah, well” I said, “That’s what you do to people when you bully them.” And she kept apologising, I said, “Well it’s a little bit late to apologise now, isn’t it?” I said, “The damage has been done now, you can’t really take that away.”
 

Constant bullying led Sarah to start self harming. She was bullied even more because of the...

Constant bullying led Sarah to start self harming. She was bullied even more because of the...

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I was different and my friends were different and the majority, we were the minority in the school so we’d have like just loads of abuse hurled at us all the time like, dictionaries chucked at us and "Have you goth the time?" and, stupid stuff like that, and I remember one lad turned round to me and he goes, “Who lass, what’s that on your arm?” “Oh it’s nothing; it’s none of your business.” And he goes, he turns round and goes, “I wish my front lawn was like you and cut itself.” And I just looked at him, I just could not but laugh, just thought, “It’s great that you’ve got to pick on somebody for having something wrong with them. You wouldn’t pick on somebody in a wheelchair why pick on somebody that self harms. It’s the same thing. If anything you’ll probably gonna, I know self harm’s not, got nothing to do with killing yourself but like you’re going to drive them into doing it more aren’t you, you’re just making the problem worse” but…
 
People got really invasive and wanted to know constantly what was wrong. And the school would always phone my parents up and say, “Sarah’s got marks on her arms,” and as my parents would ask me, “Oh I hurt my arms, I hurt myself in woodwork ‘cos I’m clumsy.” So I always did have like bruises and that but I just said, “Oh I’m clumsy,” oh I’ve done this or I’ve done that, and they believed it.
 
That’s when it really started going wrong and I realised I could get away with it and I realised that nobody noticed how I felt and nobody really cares if like, it’s obvious what’s happening so why is nobody doing anything about it, so I thought why should I try to stop it if nobody else is gonna? Why should I care?
Cyberbullying
“Cyber bullying is when a person, or a group of people, uses the internet, mobile phones or other digital technologies to threaten, tease or abuse someone.” - Childline June 2017.

Cyber bullying can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you use the internet or a mobile phone and can leave you feeling scared and unsafe even when you are at home.
 
For links to more information and support on bullying and cyberbullying, see our mental health and wellbeing resources.
 

Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated June 2017.

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