Experts believe that the act of bullying dates back to the earliest forms of civilization. Unfortunately, if you look at current times, you might be inclined to say that not much has changed! Bullies still cause mental and physical pain on our playgrounds, in our work spaces, certainly on social media, and even at the highest levels of government.
Given the persistence of bullying, experts at Blue Shield of California believe it is important to continue to raise awareness and address this issue.
What is bullying?
Bullying takes many forms. It is defined by the American Psychological Association as a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes injury or discomfort to another person. This can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.
This is particularly problematic for young people. A 2021 report On the Department of Education’s School Crime and Safety Indicators, 22% of students reported being bullied during the school year. And students who identify as lesbian, gay, bi, or transgender (LGBT) are more than twice as likely to be bullied as their non-LGBT peers. Beyond these figures, the ripple effects on our young people, our families and our schools are significant.
“Bullying victimization is something that should be taken as seriously as any other public health issue that can have a significant impact on well-being,” says David Bond, director of behavioral health, government programs, at Blue Shield of California. “We know that good health is not possible without good mental health, which can be compromised when students feel unsafe through persistent bullying, physical and verbal abuse, humiliation and intimidation. .”
Make the difference
Bond says all students should be able to participate in school without fear of being bullied, and while dealing with bullying behavior and victimization is complicated, it involves a basic solution: get involved. He encourages parents and caregivers to check in with children regularly.
“Keep in mind that the stigma around bullying can keep young people from asking for help or saying they’re going through something really tough,” Bond says. If you suspect bullying is happening, he suggests approaching kids with specific, but open-ended questions, like “Who at school bothers you more than anyone else?” or, ‘Is there anyone at school you’d like to leave alone?’ Be open to hearing from students, as well as adults, at school or online.
“If your child is being bullied at school, they may not feel comfortable saying the person’s name, but if you watch their face and body language, you may see signals that are not verbals such as silence and avoidance that can indicate a problem,” Bond says. Victims of bullying are also more likely to miss more days of school, and while truancy shouldn’t be overlooked, we can learn that students sometimes protect themselves by skipping class.
It’s also important to empower children — and adults — to help those who are being bullied, Bond says. “If we see something and say something in the moment, sometimes we can diffuse the ill effects of bullying before they get worse. Bullying is chronic, but the more we seek to break the cycle, the better it is. We should also seek to help the bully get the resolution they need. Bullies are also often hurt individuals.
Bullying is not just a youth problem
Young people aren’t the only ones who get defensive when faced with bullies. Adults are also victims, especially in the workplace. Thirty percent of employees in the United States said they had been bullied in their career, according to a report by the Institute Against Workplace Bullying.
“Work is where there’s more pressure to just brush off bullying behavior rather than take it seriously for the health and business issue that it is,” says Dr. Nicole Stelter, director of behavioral health, commercial markets at Blue Shield of California, and an industrial/organizational psychologist. “This is a major barrier to creating a psychologically healthy workplace and a strong culture of mental health.
The effects of workplace bullying include lower productivity and higher absenteeism, as well as health effects, such as depression and anxiety. In addition, the impact on passers-by, witnesses and the business as a whole can be critical: less creativity and productivity, high turnover, damage to business reputation, increased workers’ compensation and a risk of disability.
“A reminder to anyone dealing with bullies: you are not alone,” says Dr. Stelter. “Whether you are the victim or a bystander, the most important step is to take it seriously and seek help. Growing employer awareness is accompanied by greater attention and effort to address bullying directly through initiatives such as training and explicit prevention and intervention policies.
When to ask for help? If you find you’re having unusual trouble sleeping, changes in your appetite, or feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or sad and angry, it’s time to see a mental health professional or your employee assistance program. (EAP) for confidential advice and support.
- The California Department of Developmental Services has information on how to talk about bullying, how to help victims and what to do if you are being bullied.
- The federal website stopbullying.gov provides resources on cyberbullying, federal laws, and what schools and kids can do.
- California Blue Shield Mental health page has a variety of resources for members to view, while our BlueSky program improves access to mental health supports for youth, parents and educators.
- If you or someone you know is in crisis, dial 988 to reach a counselor from the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. It is a resource for people in difficulty and for those looking to offer support. People who prefer not to talk on the phone may text “741741” to reach the counselors at crisestextline.org.