The Aftereffect of Bullying on Mental Development

Bullying is a serious threat to our youth today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bullying affects 20% of high school students and cyberbullying affects 16% of high school students. Surveys compiled by the CDC also show that 33% of students ages 12-18 who reported bullying at school and 27% of students ages 12-18 who reported cyberbullying indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month. Middle schools reported the highest rate of bullying (25%), at least once a week. Bullying is the systematic abuse of power and is defined as aggressive behaviour or intentional harm-doing by peers that is carried out repeatedly and involves an imbalance of power either actual or perceived, between the victim and the bully. Being bullied is still often wrongly considered as a ‘normal rite of passage’. This review considers the importance of bullying as a major risk factor for poor physical and mental health and reduced adaptation to adult roles including forming lasting relationships, integrating into work and being economically independent. Bullying by peers has been mostly ignored by health professionals but should be considered as a significant risk factor and safeguarding issue. Bullying is found in all societies, including modern hunter-gatherer societies and ancient civilisations. It is considered an evolutionary adaptation, the purpose of which is to gain high status and dominance, get access to resources, secure survival, reduce stress and allow for more mating opportunities. Bullies are often bi-strategic, employing both bullying and also acts of aggressive ‘prosocial’ behaviour to enhance their own position by acting in public and making the recipient dependent as they cannot reciprocate. Thus, pure bullies (but not bully/victims or victims) have been found to be strong, highly popular and to have good social and emotional understanding. Hence, bullies most likely do not have a conduct disorder. Moreover, unlike conduct disorder, bullies are found in all socioeconomic and ethnic groups. In contrast, victims have been described as withdrawn, unassertive, easily emotionally upset, and as having poor emotional or social understanding, while bully/victims tend to be aggressive, easily angered, low on popularity, frequently bullied by their siblings and come from families with lower socioeconomic status (SES), similar to children with conduct disorder.

Effects bullying victims may experience:

Short-term effects of bullying for the victim

All kids are different and are likely to exhibit varying behaviors during or after bullying by a peer. With relational aggression on the rise and cyberbullying easier than ever, it should be noted that bullying can be ongoing for long periods of time before students seek help.

In the short term:

  • Anger

  • Depression

  • Anxious avoidance of settings in which bullying may occur.

  • Greater incidence of illness

  • Lower grades than non-bullied peers

  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings (In one British retrospective bullying experiences survey I came across (of unknown scientific value), 20% of the sample attempted suicide secondary to having been bullied, whereas only 3% of participants who were not bullied attempted suicide).

  • Social isolation

  • Feelings of shame

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Changes in eating habits

  • Low self-esteem

  • School avoidance

  • Symptoms of anxiety

  • Bedwetting

  • Psychosomatic symptoms (stomachaches, headaches, muscle aches, other physical complaints with no known medical cause)

  • Poor school performance

Long-term risks of bullying for the victim

With immediate and proper mental health treatment and support systems in place, victims can stave off some of the potential long-term consequences of bullying. Without intervention, however, kids are at risk for the following:

In the long term:

  • Reduced occupational opportunities

  • Lingering feelings of anger and bitterness, desire for revenge.

  • Difficulty trusting people

  • Interpersonal difficulties, including fear and avoidance of new social situations

  • Increased tendency to be a loner

  • Perception of self as easy to victimize, overly sensitive, and thin-skinned

  • Self-esteem problems (don't think well of self)

  • Increased incidence of continued bullying and victimization

  • Chronic depression

  • Increased risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide plans, and suicide attempts

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Poor general health

  • Self-destructive behavior, including self-harm

  • Substance abuse

  • Difficulty establishing trusting, reciprocal friendships and relationships

Bullying can have negative short and long-term consequences for both the victim and the bully. While traditional intervention for bullying tends to include getting help for the victim and establishing consequences for the bully, it should be noted that both the victim and the bully benefit from psychosocial support


Short Term and Long Term Effects of Bullying, By Katie Hurley, Accessed on 29th June 2022

The Long Term Effects of Bullying, By Anonymous, Accessed on 29th June 2022

Long-term effects of bullying, by Dieter Wolke and Suzet Tanya Lereya, Published on Sept 2015


This Blog on 'The Aftereffect of Bullying on Mental Development' has been contributed by Chrisann D'souza. She is an ambitious and results-driven individual. She loves to learn about the human psyche and hopes to raise awareness about mental health, gender issues, and cruelty to animals.

She is part of the International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology, IJNGP is a peer-reviewed journal that serves as a platform for the enrichment, articulation, and support of the constantly emerging field dedicated to promoting the study and research in Neurolinguistics Gestalt Psychology, and Therapy.