There is a strong link between mental health and bullying. As the diagram below shows, young people who have experienced bullying are more likely to experience mental health issues and those who have mental health issues are more likely to be bullied.
In 2015 we worked in partnership with YoungMinds to raise awareness of the impact of bullying on mental health.
We launched a new short guide for GPs on the subject of bullying in partnership with YoungMinds.
We also published Focus on Bullying and Mental Health which looked at all the research relating to bullying and 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..
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 (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.
In 2022, we summarised the findings from the first collection of our pupil bullying and wellbeing questionnaire which forms part of our United Against Bullying programme. Those findings told us that:
- Pupils who report being bullied, either face to face or online, have poorer experiences at school than those not being bullied.
- Pupils who report bullying others, either face to face or online, are the most likely to report poor experiences at school.
- Pupils at secondary schools are significantly more likely to report having poor school experiences than primary, infant and other schools.
- Both pupils that are bullied and those that report bullying others are significantly more likely to report that they don't feel they belong at school, they don't get on with their teachers, they don't feel safe at school and they don't like going to school.
- Pupils who have been bullied and those who bully others (both face to face and online) are significantly more likely to report poor wellbeing - with those who bully the most likely to report poor wellbeing.
- Pupils at secondary school have the poorest wellbeing compared to those at primary, infant and other schools.