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Changes Experiences - Bullying and Mental Health

20 March 2014

Recently on our secret Facebook group, a member asked for opinions about attending a school reunion having been bullied at school. This sparked off a discussion and other members shared their own experiences of bullying. It became apparent that many members had been bullied and we speculated as to whether there was any link between this and mental health problems later in life.

  

                                 

  

 

 

 

  

 

We held a poll and of the people that responded (bearing in mind that every respondent is either currently experiencing or has experienced mental health problems):

14% had never been bullied,

29% had been bullied as a child and

57% had been bullied both as a child and as an adult.

So in total a whopping 86% of responding members had experienced bullying at some point in their lives!

                    

 

In an effort to find out more, a post was put up asking people to elaborate on their experiences of bullying. The responses varied from distressing to truly heart-breaking:

“I got badly bullied at school, mostly because I grew up in an area which was a predominantly white population and being mixed raced I stuck out like a sore thumb. I've also been bullied throughout my adult life because I'm not very confident or assertive so people can be mean to me and I won't say anything back.”

“I was bullied at high (now secondary) school. I grew up in a rather rough area and the other children/teenagers did not take to shy, unassertive people like myself. People used to say I took drugs because I had really bad insomnia as a teenager, and bags under my eyes all the time. I would not have minded so much if it were true but I never touched drugs at school, nor did I know anyone who did.”

“I changed town and secondary school when I was 14 and I was picked on by some of the boys at the school about my weight. It was one of the triggers for my anorexia which was the start of my mental health problems.”

“I was bullied terribly at school by one particular person at first who was the most popular girl in school. People would stick chewing gum in my hair, rip up my art work and also play on my anxieties by pushing me, threats of beating up, following me home.”

“I was badly bullied in school from the age of 11 to 15. Had a stutter and when stressed would get very bad, so girls loved to call me Larry the Lamb and boys would just beat me up. Used to cry myself to sleep some nights and Sunday nights would not sleep as so scared of going to school the next day. Think that helped start my depression but also my mum was ill and spent a lot of time looking after her as well. So think it was a joint thing. However the bullying has left a long lasting mistrust which I find hard to overcome and find it hard to trust anyone.”

“I was bullied at school and it started at 13. They use to come to my house after school and wait for me; they were relentless!! I wouldn't go to school because I was scared so would truant. I couldn't tell my mum because she would have made me fight them and been angry because I was scared. She was a fighter and was very proud of the fact. I started wetting the bed which my mum couldn't cope with and would tell my friends. In the end to cut a long story short I was put into a detention centre because my mum said she couldn't cope with me because I was out of control. She was sick to death of the school dragging her backwards and forwards. She was also with an alcoholic and I wouldn't sleep waiting for him to come home drunk and them start fighting. If he never came home then she would threaten to take an overdose and send me looking for him to beg him to come home. I was in fear of her dying constantly. To tell the truth when I was put in the home I made some lovely friends and we took care of each other and I stopped wetting the bed and put on weight. I felt very safe there.”

“As a forces child I moved schools a lot so was always the outsider; this left me very open to bullying. Years of put downs, name calling and general contempt from my peers in each and every school I went to left me convinced that there was something horribly wrong with me that everyone else could see. This in turn made me easy prey in my late teens to the man who was mentally and physically abusive towards me which culminated in my complex PTSD. I think certainly in my case, bullying had a direct effect on my mental health and it is hard to believe that it would not affect most people as it eats away at your sense of self worth and makes you feel defective.”

“I have suffered bullying all of my life. As I have always been on the larger side a hell of a lot was down to that, also I went to a large comp school and at first as I wouldn't stick up for myself or hit back it would at times become physical. In one job I was always put down by one senior staff mostly in front of the rest of the team, my writing, my spelling anything really to show me up. One of my last jobs I was sat outside a room having supervision. The rest of the staff were in the next room, one of the Team Leaders said to them, loud enough for me to hear them that ‘I should not be working with children as I see a Psychiatrist.’ I did after a while try to take action but as in any bullying I have suffered no one wanted to know.”

“My childhood was dominated by she who must be obeyed at all costs, her own mother (my nan) was terrified of her daughter and the whole dynamic of the immediate family in the house revolved around not upsetting her and causing her to be angry in any way. The theory I have nowadays is that she has undiagnosed borderline personality disorder. I'm highly neurotic and It has taken long term one to one therapy, support groups and phone calls to helplines when I feel very anxious or go to worst case scenario thinking.”

“The bullying started when I was about 12. There were lots of reasons and it got worse as the years went on. I was quite shy, so when we had showers they let me shower with swimming trunks on; this prompted words. I was in a cubicle in the toilets one day and some guys tried to break the door down by kicking it. They stole my jumper which was never returned. I entered puberty quite early so this prompted name calling because they felt the size of my penis was very large compared to everyone else. I got really bad acne so they used to call me pizza face. I didn't swear so this prompted name calling. I didn't like what was considered to be the normal things that guys of my age did. I like classical music, art, politics etc. so more name calling. I was shy round girls and didn't have a girlfriend so they said I was gay. Several guys in particular talked about me all the time behind my back. People pretended to be my friend, but then again said stuff behind my back. As you can imagine this really knocked me. As a result I was diagnosed with depression when I was 18, had really low self esteem and self confidence. Since then I have never really had a proper relationship, just 2 girlfriends both of which didn't last long, I find using public toilets quite hard and any changes, I go to pieces.”

Reading through these experiences, it’s hard to believe that they are not some kind of deviation from the norm. Surely it’s an anomaly that this high proportion of Changes members have suffered bullying in the past? How do we compare with the wider population of people with mental health problems?

Sadly however, there is a growing evidence base linking bullying to mental health problems.

‘Bullying experiences of child and adolescent mental health service-users: a pilot survey’ by K. Dyer. and T. Teggart (2007) showed that 61.5% of participants reported being bullied, with 62.5 per cent of bullied participants reporting that being bullied was an important reason for their attendance at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

‘Adult Psychiatric Outcomes of Bullying and Being Bullied by Peers in Childhood and Adolescence’ by William E. Copeland, PhD; Dieter Wolke, PhD; Adrian Angold, MRCPsych; E. Jane Costello, PhD (2013) found that although once considered a childhood rite of passage, effects of bullying linger well into adulthood. Bullies and victims alike are at risk of psychiatric problems when they become adults. Victims continued to have a higher prevalence of agoraphobia, generalised anxiety and panic disorder. Bullies who were also victims were at increased risk of young adult depression, panic disorder, agoraphobia and suicidality. Bullies who were not also victims were at risk for antisocial personality disorder. The report concluded that the consequences of being bullied are multiple and long lasting effects on mental health with the worst effects for those who are both victims and bullies.

Being bullied now? Get support:

Bullyonline http://www.bullyonline.org/ The world's largest resource on workplace bullying and related issues

Bullying UK http://www.bullying.co.uk/advice/anti-bullying-advice Bullying UK offer information on all types of bullying including workplace, school and via text messages.

Parent Helpline: 0808 800 222 (Lines open 7am – Midnight)

Adult Bullying http://www.mentalhealthsupport.co.uk/AdultBullying.html Providing information and advice on how to handle adult bullying.

Gov.UK – Workplace bullying https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment Offering information on harassment and bullying in the workplace.

Think U Know http://www.thinkuknow.co.uk Online information about staying safe online, includes advice for both children and adults, or visit the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/clickceop

Samaritans http://www.samaritans.org Samaritans are available to listen to anyone who is distressed. Helpline: 08457 90 90 90 (lines open 24 hours) Email: jo@samaritans.org

Many thanks to all the fabulous Changes members who contributed to this article!

If you would like to share any of your experiences with our readers, please contact: newsletter@changesbristol.org.uk