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The Warning Signs of Bullying

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At the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, we believe it’s important to raise awareness about the effects of bullying. Together with our partners, we work to provide resources and support for those in emotional distress, including individuals who have been bullied.

In popular media, bullying behavior is often linked to suicide in youth.  As a result, many in the community may believe that bullying is a direct cause of suicidal behavior in young people.  In fact, while bullying can be a factor in youth suicide - PDF, bullying alone is rarely the only suicide risk factor present among youth who have been bullied and complete suicide.  That being said, bullying can cause significant emotional distress and can increase the risk of clinically significant depression and anxiety; all the more reason for us to be familiar with the signs of bullying and know how to get help for it.

In honor of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, learn and share some of the common warning signs of a youth being bullied:

  • Somatic symptoms, like unexplained injuries, complaints of frequent headaches, stomach pain or just feeling “sick,” difficulty eating or sleeping;
  • Loss of or damage to personal property, such as clothes, books, or other belongings;
  • Loss of friends or avoidance of social situations;
  • Academic challenges, such as worsening grades, lack of engagement in school work, and school avoidance;
  • Emotional distress, such as feeling helpless and a loss of self-esteem and confidence;
  • Running away from home, harming themselves, and other self-destructive behaviors, such as new or increased use of drugs or alcohol;
  • Thoughts of suicide and/or speaking about suicide.

There are also signs if a child is bullying others. Common warning signs of a youth bullying others include:

  • Getting into physical or verbal fights;
  • Having friends who bully others;
  • Worrying about their reputation, social status or popularity;
  • Becoming increasingly aggressive toward peers, parents, teachers and other adults;
  • Getting sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently;
  • Having extra money or new belongings that they cannot explain;
  • Blaming others for their problems, or not accepting responsibility for their actions.

It’s important to remember that many young people that are being bullied - or those who are bullying others- have difficulty seeking help.  Those who are bullied may be embarrassed about what is happening, may be worried that the situation will get worse if they speak up, or may simply want to handle it on their own.  If you believe a young person is being bullied, or is engaging in bullying behavior toward others, please do not delay in seeking help.  Early intervention is critical in resolving the situation, empowering the young person who is being bullied, managing any emotional distress that is the result of experiencing bullying, and addressing the needs of a young person who may be bullying others. 

If a youth is thinking or talking about suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or chat at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org .

Lisa Furst is the Assistant Vice President, Training and Quality Improvement, at the Mental Health Association of New York City. She works to engage and inform a diverse group of professionals and the general public about mental health, mental illness, and treatment through training and technical assistance programming that promotes knowledge development and skills-building. Lisa can speak to the needs of a number of populations, including youth, adults, older adults and people affected by disasters. Lisa is the co-author of Depressed Older Adults:  Education and Screening (Springer Publications) and has co-authored pieces for Aging Well, Today’s Geriatric Medicine, and the Journal of Case Management and has been featured in print, television and radio media.