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How Bullying Changes the Brain and Makes Kids More Susceptible to Mental Illness

Bullying and Mental Health

Kids will be kids, and sometimes this means engaging in distasteful behaviors such as being rude to peers and bullying them. While some adults may chalk this up to normal childhood behavior, or a result of the reptilian brain in action, it's a much more serious issue than anyone thought it was until now.  New research is finding that bullying changes the brain in detrimental ways, and makes victims more susceptible to mental illness. According to a recent study conducted by Erin Burke Quinian at King's College London, repetitive bullying in a sample of European teens led to damage that extended beyond psychological disturbances. Victims of consistent bullying developed structural changes in their brains which made them more vulnerable to developing a mental illness.

The act of bullying is far more damaging to an individual than the pain and humiliation that is felt in the moment. This form of abuse has the power to affect the physical structure of the brain, and cause long-lasting negative impacts on the mental wellbeing of a person for the rest of his/her life. If a person causes physical harm to an individual this is dealt with according to the situation and the injury. Some are disciplined with the local law authorities, and others by school officials and parents. Bullying is far more detrimental to a person than a one-time physical injury. Since bullying extends beyond isolated incidents of physical violence, identifying it and presenting clear evidence of it can be difficult. This means that the need for education and greater awareness amongst peers, parents, teachers, school officials, etc. is necessary.

Red Flags of Bullying

Some kids may only have one bully who targets them, while others may suffer such abuse from large groups of people. It can become a bit like a plucking order with chickens. When a person of high influence or popularity decides to pick on an individual, it causes others to join in. Before long, the victim no longer wishes to go to school, may exhibit signs of social anxiety, and may start coming home with torn clothes, destroyed property, bruises, etc. Some victims of bullying are able to open up to parents, a trusted teacher, or a school counselor about the behavior. Others may be too afraid to tell anyone out of fear of the bullying becoming worse if any actions are taken from teachers, parents, etc. on behalf of the victim. Some additional indicators of bullying include:

  • Increased “sick days”

  • Social withdrawal

  • Moodiness

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Low self-esteem

  • Headaches or stomach pains

  • A decline in school performance

  • Self-destructive behavior

Bullying changes the brain

How to Spot and Combat Bullying

The most common places bullying occurs are in cyberspace, at school, on the school bus, and during extracurricular activities. This means that stricter policies against bullying must be put in place. Zero tolerance for bullying behavior and negative behaviors toward others must become commonplace for public and private education institutions nationwide. If staff and students alike are educated on the true dangers and effects of bullying, those who do it may be less likely to engage in it. Furthermore, if stricter consequences are implemented to help eliminate these behaviors, a bully may think twice before engaging in such behavior. Signs your child may be bullying others include:

  • Aggressive behavior

  • Being sent to detention and the principal's office

  • Acquiring money and assets mysteriously

  • Inability to take responsibility for actions and blaming others

  • Engages in verbal or physical fights

  • Has friends who are bullies

  • Competitive and concerned with reputation

Many bullies have personality disorders which may prompt such behaviors. Certain personality disorders can worsen over time and lead to much more serious and antisocial behaviors in adulthood if they aren't appropriately addressed. Therapy and psychological intervention are needed for anyone who engages in bullying behavior. Having a psychological evaluation and attending a series of sessions with a licensed mental health professional is essential for helping extinguish such behavior.

Helping Victims Recover

It's just as important for victims to seek therapy to help heal from bullying as it is for bullies to undergo psychological treatment to recover from their negative behavior patterns. Just as bullying has the power to structurally change the brain, so does therapy. The sooner a victim is able to get help from a therapist, the better. Victims may require treatment for depression and anxiety, and will also need help repairing their self-esteem. It can also help to form a support group for those who have been victims. Some schools will form social groups intermixed with bullies and victims in an effort to repair the social bonds and help eliminate future incidents.

While bullying is a serious issue that can have long-lasting detrimental effects, support is available to help heal and move forward. If your child is being bullied and is in need of some social and mental support it may help to also add a micronutrient supplement to his/her diet. Micronutrients are safer than psychotropic medications and can help children and teens regain their focus in school while lowering symptoms of depression and anxiety while they work with a therapist to repair the damage that has been done to their psyche and brain. Bullying is something that's been too common for too long, but with a bit of cooperation, education, and awareness we can all work toward ending its popularity.

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