May is mental health awareness month. It is the time of year where the topic of mental health is more readily heightened in the media and with organizations. BRRC is no exception. From the very first conversations my husband and I had about forming a charity over six years ago, the impact we desired to make was to lessen the horrendous mental impact that bullying can have on its targets. We talked at length about teen suicide and how desperately we wanted to lower that number especially in Colorado. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among ages 15-24 in the US. In Colorado, suicide is the leading cause of death for youth and young adults.

It is probably no surprise to learn that bullying can have challenging impacts of those who are targeted. reports that not only targets are afflicted with negative mental health concerns, but also those who engage in bullying others, bystanders, and most negatively impacted are those who were bullied and then become the person who bullies others.

Below, I will discuss short-term and potential long-term impacts of bullying, what to look for, and ideas for healing. I often say that being a parent of a bullied child requires us to put on a super-hero cape and our very best athletic shoes. The journey is incredibly taxing for the entire family and is a marathon and not simply a foot race.

The Potential Impacts of Bullying

Being a target of bullying can lead to a litany of feelings. Many people experience
embarrassment, sadness, fear, loneliness, lowered self-esteem, rejection, exclusion and isolation. Short-term effects of bullying can lead to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts

As an adult, it is important to be on the lookout for potential signs of depression and anxiety in our young people.

Common symptoms of depression include: low mood, feelings of worthlessness,
feelings of guilt, loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, changes in eating or sleeping habits and thoughts of death or suicide.

Common symptoms of anxiety include: Worry, stress or fear with daily life, restlessness or feeling edgy, difficulty concentrating, unable to control emotions, and physical sensations like a racing heart, sweating or feeling dizzy.

Mental health concerns can also lead to physical health issues. Persons who have
anxiety and/or depression are sick more often, feel tired, have challenges with falling asleep, and can have unexplained aches, pains and gut issues.

Children who are targeted for bullying also can suffer into adulthood. The effects of bullying don’t just go away. Long-term effects of bullying can lead to:

  • Generalized anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • School avoidance
  • Substance abuse
  • PTSD

A child who has endured relentless bullying has been subject to trauma. The well-being of a bullying target must become a primary concern for the family.

What to do:

I am going to discuss this from several angles. First, we will look at the three steps that a family should take when a child is being bullied. We will look at ideas that the bullying target can employ to start their healing. Next, we will examine additional ideas for the family and for the school to turn the tide of bullying. Finally, there are resources available 24/7 for mental health crises.

Three Initial Treatment Goals for the Bullying Target:

  1. Devise a plan to stop the abuse. This is where BRRC can help. It must be
    reported. The school needs to make a plan to stop the bullying and also come up with plans to make sure the child isn’t targeted going forward. BRRC can help educate the family and the school about bullying, what the rights of the child are, and how to best make sure the child has a safe way to attend school.
  2. Help the child rebuild their self-esteem. Listening to the child, letting them know they did nothing to deserve being bullied, and working in conjunction with the child are all excellent ways to start rebuilding after the trauma of bullying.
  3. Teach new constructive thought patterns to help the child succeed now and in the future. Some forms of therapy may be opportune for adolescents to begin rebuilding and healing. The quicker and more effectively a family intervenes on behalf of a bullied child, the greater chance there is to reduce both the short- and long-term effects bullying can have on the child.

Positive Steps a Bullying Target Can Take:

  1. Remember you are not alone. Many others have gone through the torments of bullying. Open up to close friends. Chances are they can empathize.
  2. Talk about the bullying with a trusted adult. Tell your parent, teacher, counselor, or principal. They need to know there is a problem to address it.
  3. Practice self-care. Be kind to yourself. Self-care can be many things such as:
    reaching out to a friend or family for support, journaling, practicing mindfulness, being creative, getting enough sleep, eating well, and being physically active.
  4. Consider therapy. Working with a mental health professional can give you an outlet to talk about your problems and learn coping skills and come up with healthy solutions. In Colorado a youth 12 years and older can seek therapy without a parent’s consent. If money is a concern, there are several options for lowered-cost and no-cost therapy available for kids.
  5. Do volunteer work. The opportunity to help someone or a cause is a great outlet to see there is indeed good in the world.

Family steps to help:

  1. Start a conversation about bullying. If you suspect your child may be a target of bullying, do not simply wait for them to tell you. Adolescents often have much shame and fear about bullying and it may require you to initiate the conversation.
  2. Help your child identify trustworthy adults at school.
  3. Help your child identify safe friends and buddies at school. Just one close friend can greatly impact the mental health of a bullying target.
  4. Brainstorm with your child about how to respond. Instructing your child to simply walk away or to ignore the bully won’t make your child feel safe and cared for.
  5. Provide a safe space for your child to talk. Avoid being reactive, but rather listen and assure them that they have done nothing to deserve to be bullied.

School Prevention Strategies:

  1. Schools who actively create positive school environments will have less bullying and will also be more likely to stop it. Schools need to invest time and energy in encouraging positive, kind relationships and provide tools for teachers to handle bullying among students.
  2. Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs assist children in methods to
    manage their feelings and regulate their behaviors. SEL provides the opportunity to learn about choosing positive expressions and to experience empathy.

Mental Health Support:

  1. 988: This is the national suicide and crisis line.
    Simply calling or texting 9-8-8 will connect you to a trained crisis counselor in your area.
  2. The Trevor Project: This is a mental health and crisis resource for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Their 24/7 phone is 1-866-488-7386 and their text is 678-678.
  3. Second Wind Fund: In Colorado children and youth that are 19 and younger who are at risk for suicide and do not have the means or adequate insurance for necessary for mental health treatment are matched with licensed therapists in their local community or via teletherapy for no charge.
  4. I Matter Colorado: This program connects children with a therapist for up to six free virtual counseling sessions that are completely confidential. Children 11 and younger will need the permission of their parent or guardian to obtain the program.