Bullying and mental health
In Anti-Bullying Week 2015, we worked in partnership with YoungMinds to raise awareness of the impact of bullying on mental health.
We know that bullying can have a detrimental impact on children and young people's mental health. We also know that children and young people with mental health issues are more likely to be bullied.
As part of ABA's All Together programme, ABA has written resources for schools and other professionals with CAMHS Evidence Based Practice Unit (UCL & Anna Freud Centre) and Common Room Consulting Ltd. It includes:
These resources are written to apply to schools but could also apply to other settings for children and young people. They draw on evidence from both the research literature and evidence derived from consultation with children and young people who have mental health issues and experiences of bullying. It outlines the specific issues that schools, teachers and other professionals should be aware of where mental health and bullying are concerned and also outlines actions that teachers and other professionals should take to prevent and respond to bullying of children and young people with mental health issues.
What is mental health?
The importance of physical health to our everyday wellbeing is usually well known and readily identified by most people. Understanding how certain behaviours and experiences can have positive or negative influences on our physical health is learnt from a young age – for example children are often taught that smoking is bad for your health and can cause lung damage. In contrast, understanding that certain behaviours and experiences can have positive or negative influences on our ‘mental health’ is much less recognised and acknowledged. The phrase ‘mental health’ is often interpreted in a negative manner to refer to mental health problems or difficulties. It is important to recognise that ‘mental health’ can be both a negative and a positive state:
‘Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’ (Promoting Mental Health: Concepts, Emerging Evidence Practice. World Health Organisation (WHO, 2005)
Just as our physical health fluctuates, and can be affected by various environmental or personal factors, so can our mental health. Like the causes of physical health problems, mental health difficulties can result from factors that include: genetics; brain damage or injury; substance abuse; and chemical imbalances. Unfortunately, society can be less understanding where mental ill health is concerned, and people can be less sympathetic and supportive when compared to physical health issues.
Key findings of our consultation with young people
Bullying has a significant effect on children and young people’s mental health, emotional well-being and identity.
Bullying which is not responded to effectively, can cause children and young people to develop other coping strategies such as self-isolation or self-harm; and cause significant disruption to their ability to engage with school, learning and their wider relationships.
Children and young people with mental health or emotional and behavioural difficulties need support for their mental health needs in school in a way that is non-stigmatising and involved collaboration between school staff and the young people themselves.
Schools need to ensure that young people feel able to talk about bullying and how it affects their emotional well-being.
Disruptive behaviour can be an expression of difficulties or distress, and schools need to be mindful of this.
There needs to be recognition and support for the emotional needs of children and young people who are being bullied and who bully others.
Do not underestimate the importance of effective listening when responding to reports of bullying.
Sources of further information and support