The mental effects of bullying

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When I was younger, I would get teased a lot for being skinny. My skinny legs and my skinny neck mostly, were subject for everyone’s jokes. I remember feeling different. Different because in my eyes, everyone seemed normal because they were never made fun of. These feelings led to low self esteem and withdrawal. I wouldn’t participate in activities or hang out with friends because of the constant teasing. I eventually ended up being a loner. Took me a minute to get over it.

Many people go through bullying at home, school, work and recently, online. What people don’t realize is that bullying opens up a whole range of mental issues which when left unchecked, cause long lasting damage.

So what exactly is bullying?

Bullying, which is expressed in various forms, is a repetitive aggressive pattern of behavior intended to provoke, hurt or distress others. People that are bullied often have a different physical appearance, social, economic, racial or ethnic background. The causes of bullying are varied, they include but not limited to dysfunctional family backgrounds, revenge, school or work culture,
peer pressure and inactivity of stakeholders. Generally, bullying entails;

  • physical intimidation or harm—tripping, hitting, pushing or spitting on a victim 
  • social exclusion, making fun of the victim, teasing, name calling and insults
  • threats, property destruction, making the victim do something he or she doesn’t want to do
  • spreading rumors or lies about the victim

In Kenya, there has been a long-time culture of bullying in schools. A study conducted by The Global School-based Health Survey in 2017, ranked Kenya among the top countries in the world with high prevalence of secondary school bullying. Bullying in schools entails being beaten and stolen from, intimidation, coercion, threats and sexual abuse. In the work place, many people also go through intimidation, receive targeted jokes, are misled about work duties, are verbally abused or sexually harassed. Since the onset of social media, we have witnessed cyber-bullying practices skyrocketing. These bullying includes intimidation and verbal abuse due to someone’s tribe, religion, gender, weight and age.

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It is safe to say that bullying is a crisis that needs to be addressed and shunned in our society. But despite the various forms of bullying, a more important issue should be addressed; the mental effects that result from it. Not only does bullying cause self esteem issues, it can lead to physical injury, social or emotional problems and in some cases, death.

In 2017, a woman committed suicide by throwing herself in front of oncoming traffic and one of the reasons was cyber bullying. She had been mocked and ridiculed after she asked advise from a famous Facebook group in Kenya. In 2019, a 14 year old girl killed herself after she was bullied by a teacher for being on her period. The ridicule and shame contributed greatly to her death.

What are the mental effects of bullying?

Bullying can affect everyone; those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. It is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide. Some of the effects of bullying include;

  • Feelings of sadness and loneliness that lead to depression and anxiety
  • Feelings of shame
  • Decreased academic or work performance
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy and social isolation
  • Quitting work or dropping out from school
  • Higher risks of illnesses and psychosomatic symptoms

Some long term effects include;

  • Chronic depression
  • Increased suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts
  • PTSD
  • Destructive behavior including self harm
  • Substance and alcohol abuse
  • Difficulty in establishing and keeping relationships


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It is also important to note that people who bully others often go through traumatic events in their lives that lead them to bullying. Most of the bullies go through issues like ridicule, shaming, abuse, esteem and even bullying itself. Due to this, they are unable to deal and end up bullying others as a coping mechanism. Bullies are most often likely to;

  • Abuse alcohol and drugs in adolescence and adulthood
  • Get into fights, vandalize property, drop out of school or quit job
  • Have criminal convictions  
  • Be abusive toward their family members, colleagues or school mates

Bullies should also receive the attention needed to help them cope with the issues they undergo. This is done best through counselling, offering a listening ear and providing a safe home, work and social environment.

In conclusion, bullying is a major issue that should be addressed by all. We should not condone bullying and speak up for those that go through it. At home, parents should ensure they provide a safe and loving for everyone. They should help build their child’s confidence and self-esteem and teach them coping mechanisms incase of issues like bullying. In school, teachers should ensure that bullying is addressed and students taught about the dangers and repercussions and bullying. The same should be addressed in the workplace environment. When society is educated and stringent measures taken, cases of bullying will subside.

Photo by Brett Sayles on

Remember to love, care and stand up for people going through bulling. Report all cases of bullying and save someone’s life.

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