The subject of “bullying” has been gaining momentum, replacing a nonchalant attitude driven by a nonchalant label. Evidence emerges on the psychological front that bullying has lasting, debilitating effects on mental health and self-image, as evidenced by a surge in eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and suicides. Bullied children often spend their adulthoods casting themselves in similar roles, perpetuating the cycle.
The National Youth Violence Prevention Resources Centerand The Health Resources and Services Administation reports that 15% to 25% of students in the U.S. are bullied. US bullying behavior has seen a 5% increase. Children who are obese, gay, or have disabilities are at a 63% increased risk.
Bullied children as well as their aggressors are more likely to be experiencing family dysfunction, domestic violence, conduct and personality disorders, and criminal conduct than the general school population. Bullying magnifies these genetic and environmental predisposing risk factors.
Bullies relay messages to already-sensitive children that they are inherently flawed. Consequently, a kind of neuroticism is cultivated in the child coupled with a growing desperation for acceptance. The child, young and unable to distinguish between “the big picture” and “the little one”, may begin to control her body as her options are limited. This further intensifies the problem. Once a full-blown eating disorder is born, the victim becomes unable to see her body objectively. Dieting is only a further catalyst for perceptual distortions. The BBC reports that a survey by the charity Beat reveals that nearly half of young people suffering from eating disorders blame bullying as a contributing factor to their illness.
Bullying can also cause Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a body image disorder defined by a neurotic, painstaking preoccupation with a subtle or imagined physical anomaly. The disorder usually cultivates during adolescence and treatment (usually cognitive-behavioral therapy) is arduous. Body dysmorphic disorder is on the rise.
Extreme cases of bullying such as that of 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi frequently result in suicide. Two students streamed Clementi’s sexual encounter with another male student onto the internet. Humiliated, Clementi frantically drove to the George Washington Bridge and leapt to his death. “Those students who are face-to-face bullied, and/or cyberbullied, face increased risk for depression, PTSD, and suicidal attempts and ideation,” says Iowa State Professor Blumenfeld.
Scandinavian researcher Dan Olweus claims that bullying can be reduced by 50% through the implementation of school programs. His program has been applied throughout Norway and has yielded significant results. The program includes school-wide, classroom, and individual interventions.
Bullying, once “just a part of growing up” has now gained national and worldwide media attention. Online resources such as BRAVE (Bullying Resources and Values Education) and Olweus have channeled a new era; the bully has finally been exposed.