Bullying is a terrible behavior, for the victim, the perpetrator, and also for bystanders. It involves systematic and repeated aggression of one person to another and can have serious and lasting consequences for everyone involved. While it sometimes seems like a natural part of childhood, there really is no reason for bullying to exist. Among the most common consequences of bullying is depression, which in turn can lead to the use of antidepressants, drugs that come with their own serious consequences and side effects.
What is Bullying?
Most people instinctively know what bullying is. Whether you have experienced it personally, you have likely seen it in action and can recognize it. Putting a definition into words is a little more challenging, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education came together to do just that. These agencies define bullying as:
- Unwanted aggression.
- An imbalance of power that is either real or perceived.
- A repetition of the aggressive behaviors.
In other words, bullying is an attack, repeated unwanted aggressive behaviors, perpetrated by someone in a position of power over the victim. Bullying can be direct or indirect. Direct bullying occurs when the bully and victim are in contact, such as hitting or threatening someone during recess at school. Indirect bullying does not involve direct contact. An example would be spreading mean rumors about someone. Bullying can be physical, emotional and verbal, or even involve destruction of property.
A more modern version of bullying occurs online or through apps and messaging services. This can be direct or indirect, but is verbal rather than physical. It may involve threats, spreading rumors or images of the victim, or harassing the victim in an online setting. Any bullying that occurs through tech devices is considered as serious and potentially damaging as direct, physical, or in-person bullying.
Bullying Facts and Statistics
The statistics about bullying are discouraging. Most bullying in the U.S. occurs in middle schools and one in three students of all ages report having been bullied. Nearly one-third of students report having bullied someone else, and nearly three-quarters have witnessed bullying incidents. Verbal bullying is most common, and includes name calling, teasing, and spreading rumors and lies.
Cyberbullying is less common than in-person bullying, with nine percent of students in sixth through twelfth grade experiencing it at one point. For some students the incidence rate is much higher. Fifty-five percent of students who identify or are perceived as LGBT have been cyberbullied. A positive fact about bullying is that when bystanders witnessing an incident step in and do something to intervene, most bullying stops within ten seconds.
The Consequences of Bullying for the Victim and the Bully
When a child is bullied, both the victim and the bully suffer serious consequences. For the victim, the consequences of being bullied can be long-lasting and included depression and anxiety, difficulty sleeping, changes in eating patterns, substance abuse, and loss of interest in activities. Some children who are bullied avoid school and other activities. They miss out on these activities, but also become socially isolated in some cases. Bullying victims also suffer academically with lower grades and test scores. A rare but very serious consequence of bullying is violence perpetrated by the victim on others. Bullying victims may also suffer physical injuries and health problems.
Bullies also face repercussions from their actions. They are more likely than their peers to abuse drugs and alcohol. They are more likely to get into fights, to drop out of school, and to engage in risky sexual behaviors earlier than their peers. As they grow into adults, bullies are more likely to get in trouble with the law and to commit domestic abuse.
Suicide is a very important potential consequence of bullying that must be taken seriously. Although not all victims of bullying consider suicide, some do and the effects are obviously devastating. Those at most risk for suicide are bullying victims who already had other mental health issues such as depression or traumatic experiences. Specific groups of children are also at a greater risk of suicide exacerbated by bullying: Native American, Asian American, and LGBT children.
Battling Depression with Medications
Depression is one of the most common and serious consequences of bullying, for both victims and perpetrators. Some may experience mild or temporary feelings of sadness and hopelessness, but these children are at risk for being diagnosed with clinical depression, a chronic illness that requires treatment. To help protect a child it may be tempting for parents to choose medication such as anti-depressants. In general, a combination of medications and therapy is the prescribed treatment for depression. But there are some serious risks, especially for children, in using antidepressants.
The Dangers of Antidepressants
Antidepressant medications include a number of generic and brand name products, like Celexa, Prozac, Effexor, Lexapro, Cymbalta, Paxil, and more. These drugs mostly work by increasing the amount of serotonin, a chemical involved in mood, in the brain. They can be effective along with therapy for treating depression, but only recently it was discovered that they can have serious consequences for people under the age of 25, including children and teens.
Antidepressants increase the chances that a child or teen will have suicidal thoughts and will engage in suicidal behaviors. When this was discovered, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required that drug makers include a serious warning on the labels. Doctors may still prescribe the drugs for young people, but the benefits must be carefully weighed against the potentially life-threatening risk.
There are other dangers of using antidepressants. Discontinuing use can cause a serious syndrome that mimics withdrawal symptoms seen in drug addicts. It can cause anxiety, agitation, nausea, confusion, mood swings, vision problems, and other serious problems. Antidepressants may also cause a condition called serotonin syndrome, in which the brain accumulates too much of the chemical. It can cause hallucinations, mania, high blood pressure, trembling, sweating, and even coma or death.
Both victims and perpetrators of bullying are at risk for abusing drugs or alcohol. This risk endures into adulthood and can lead to addiction. One of the most troubling epidemics of abuse and addiction currently is prescription narcotics and heroin. Prescription painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone are common choices for abuse, but as they have gotten more difficult to access addicts have turned to heroin for a similar high. The potential for abuse and addiction with prescriptions like opioid painkillers is serious enough to warrant great care in using and prescribing them, especially for people at risk of abusive behaviors, like bullies and bullying victims.
Bullying is a very serious problem, mostly for children and teens, but adults can also be victims and perpetrators of this harmful behavior. The bullying itself is harmful and can cause lasting complications, but those in turn can lead to the use of drugs that are harmful and to the abuse of other drugs. Prevention and intervention are crucial in stopping bullying and putting a halt to all the terrible consequences.