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Mental Health and Bullying: What’s the Connection?

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Bullying is a universal problem that affects not only children but also adolescents and adults. The typical bully takes advantage of a real (or imagined) power dynamic to suppress, belittle, or demean someone. Any person who has ever been insulted, targeted, or snubbed by someone else has experienced bullying. 

Victims of bullying, and often bullies themselves, experience negative mental health effects as a result of bullying behavior. Here’s what you should know about the links between bullying and depression, and how to seek help if you or someone you know is being bullied.   

How Does Bullying Affect Mental Health?

Victims of bullying often experience self-esteem issues and can even suffer mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety.

Types of bullying include:

  • Verbal: Verbal bullying is verbal abuse and can include offensive remarks regarding someone’s sexual orientation or race, insults, teasing, and intimidation.
  • Physical: Physical bullying is when someone hits, pushes, trips, or kicks someone, or even destroys their property. 
  • Cyber: Cyberbullying occurs on the internet and mobile devices and can include spreading rumors about someone online, in a text, or in an email; abusive messages sent either via text, video, or images; and using someone else’s profile to imitate them.
  • Social: Social bullying is a type of bullying that isn’t as easy to notice. It includes spreading rumors about someone, playing jokes on someone to humiliate them, and purposely excluding someone from social events.

Repetitive victimization can lead to extreme fear of such an event happening again, or fears of the victim running into the bully during their daily lives. Bullying often carries the added weight of verbal threats mixed with the potential danger of physical actions.

The Link Between Bullying and Depression

Research tells us that bullying causes depression, anxiety, and stress in adolescent victims.(1) Additionally, an important 2017 study points out that the same negative effects can be linked to online bullying behavior.(2)

Bullying not only has an effect on the victim’s mental health but can also affect their academic performance. Kids and teenagers who are bullied have poorer grades, compared to children who aren’t bullied, and may skip classes to avoid the bully.(3) 

Although it can be difficult to believe, many times, bullies are victims themselves who act out by paying negative behavior forward: it’s not uncommon for the bullies themselves to be depressed or anxious.

What To Do if You’re Being Bullied

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If you’re the victim of a bully or know someone who is, the first step is to let someone else know about the problem. Preferably, this should be someone in a position of authority where the behavior has happened (or is likely to happen again).

For example, bullying at school should be reported to an internal authority figure, such as a teacher or the school principal. In the case of severe harassment or threat, reports should be made to law enforcement with the help of a parent.

Online threats and cyberbullying should be reported to the main site administrator by using the internal report function first. On relevant social media posts, statuses, or private messages, a “report” button will “flag” posts to administrators, and also sometimes to law enforcement.

Online bullying helplines (e.g. and can provide helpful information on what constitutes bullying behavior, and what to do if you suspect someone is the victim of a bully. 

Do You or Someone You Know Suffer From Depression As a Result of Bullying?

If you or someone you know is affected by depression as a result of bullying, seek professional help. Depression is a health condition, not just a consequence or symptom, that can be effectively managed with a combination of the right counseling and treatment.

Contact Madison Avenue TMS & Psychiatry online or call 212.731.2033 to learn more about depression treatment for young adults.

1. Pimentel FO, Della Méa CP, and Dapieve Patias N. Victims of bullying, symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, and suicidal ideation in teenagers. Acta Colombiana de Psicología. 2020;23(2):230-240. Link. Accessed January 09, 2022.
2. Vaillancourt T, Faris R, Mishna F. Cyberbullying in Children and Youth: Implications for Health and Clinical Practice. Can J Psychiatry. 2017;62(6):368–373. Link. Accessed January 7, 2022. 

3. Samara M, Nascimento BDS, El-Asam A, Hammuda S, and Khattab N. How Can Bullying Victimisation Lead to Lower Academic Achievement? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Mediating Role of Cognitive-Motivational Factors. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(5):2209.

Dr. David Woo

Dr. Woo has been seeing patients in private practice since 2002, always with the goals of combining evidence-based medicine with psychodynamic psychotherapy and collaborating with other mental health professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for his patients. He has been certified to administer TMS at his practice since 2017. His greatest clinical interests include helping patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

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