What are the psychological impacts of bullying? Bullying, really, at its core, is best viewed as a highly stressful experience for your child. It’s stressful, not only as a one-off, but part of the nature of bullying is it’s persistent, regular, and in some instances, particularly in a world of social media inescapable, the person may be bullied at school, the person may be bullied online. So your son or daughter has this persistent, stressful, unpleasant experience that goes on day in and day out. And that is a very important way of looking at bullying from a psychological point of view.

Putting aside the fact that bullying is unacceptable and putting aside the fact that particularly schools and sometimes groups of parents have an obligation to try and do what they can to minimise, nothing takes away the fact that bullying is very stressful for your child and the longer it goes on, the more persistent it is, the more there are psychological consequences.

So how do those psychological consequences manifest themself? Well, the first thing is young people are not very good at actually describing how they feel. That’s an adult construct. Teenagers and even younger, find it hard to express what their emotional state is. So often, their emotional state will be manifest by changes in behaviour.

What changes in behaviour might you see in someone who’s being bullied?

So what are the typical changes of behaviour one will see in someone who’s being bullied?

The first is their emotions go up and down. They seem quite unpredictable, tearfulness, anger, irritability, and the underlying cause of that may be quite hard to establish.

Secondly, a reluctance to interact with their peers, peer groups moving around, or at its most extreme, avoidance. Avoidance of going to school, avoidance of associating with their peers.

The other element is that their sleep may become disturbed. Appetite may be impacted. So there’s an overall change in their demeanour and their behaviour.

And then in the school setting, teachers may well report a change in academic performance, a decline, or their behaviour at school alters in a way that is quite obvious, that suggests they’re not themselves.

So being on the lookout for these changes in behaviour, and if you do see these changes of behaviour, there could be lots of causes, but one of the causes that is particularly front of mind and legitimately so, is whether your child is being bullied.

Dr Matthew Cullen, Psychiatrist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney

Last Reviewed: 07/10/2020

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