Anti-bullying week: 9 signs someone you know might be being bullied
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Suffolk clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Clark explains what bullying is, how to spot the signs and how it can deeply affect someone later in life.
Bullying is something everyone has no doubt experienced at some point in their lives – whether through being the victim of it, or witnessing someone else being bullied.
This year’s National Anti-Bullying Week will take place between Monday November 16 and Friday November 20, and aims to raise awareness of the issue of bullying, especially among children in schools.
Dr Sarah Clark is a clinical psychologist based at Bury St Edmunds’ Abbeygate Psychology, and has over 10 years of experience working within the NHS. Having worked for many of those years in Suffolk’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, she has seen the effects that bullying can have on a young person – and how it can impact someone later in life, even well into adulthood.
To understand the effects of it, one must first understand what exactly bullying is, and what constitutes it.
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“There’s no legal definition of bullying, but it is generally considered to be the following: ‘Repeated behaviour that is intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally.’ However, I also believe that people are sometimes unaware their behaviours may be hurting others, and they may unintentionally be causing emotional harm to others,” explains Dr Clark.
Bullying comes in many forms, but some of the common instances tend to be teasing, physical assault, making threats, name calling, damaging your belongings, stealing from you, excluding you from social groups, posting insulting things about you online and sending you offensive messages.
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But this sort of behaviour isn’t just limited to the playground – and adult bullying can be just as prevalent as childhood and teenage bullying.
2019 statistics show that while one fifth of young people have experienced bullying in school, 23% of adults have admitted to being bullied in the workplace.
“Bullying can occur at absolutely any age and can affect any one of us. As adults, bullying can often take place in the workplace, or within social groups - but it can also happen within families and care settings.
“I don’t necessarily think there is a big difference between bullying in children and adults, but perhaps the difference is in the language and terminology used. It is more common for us to use the term ‘harassment’ with adults, and ‘bullying’ with children.”
Knowing that bullying can occur anywhere and at any stage in life, there are a handful of signs that you should look out for in case you fear someone you know is being bullied. These generally tend to include:
- Physical injury
- Avoiding activities they usually enjoy, such as hobbies and social gatherings
- Being afraid to go to school or work, being mysteriously ‘ill’ each morning, or skipping school or work
- Not doing as well at school or underperforming at work
- Belongings getting ‘lost’ or damaged
- A general loss of confidence and self-esteem
- Becoming distressed and withdrawn
- Problems eating or sleeping
- Bullying others
While some of these may seem like short-term problems that will go away once the bullying stops, they can actually lead to long-term issues if not dealt with sooner.
“Bullying is a risk factor for many mental health difficulties – and it is especially common for someone who has experienced bullying to later develop anxiety, low self-esteem and/or depression. These themselves can cause sleep disruption, changes to appetite, motivation and energy levels.
“Bullying can also change people’s trust in others and affect their ability to form close relationships in the future. It can affect their sense of belonging, and we know that belonging is a central component of wellbeing.”
If you’re worried someone you know is potentially being bullied, there’s a number of things you can do to help.
“Firstly, speak out,” says Sarah. “In regards to children, it is law that all schools must have measures in place to prevent bullying. Schools should not only have procedures in place for managing a situation where a young person has been bullied, but should be working to develop an ethos to prevent bullying from happening in the first place.”
Similarly, if you think an adult you know is being bullied at work, whether that’s a colleague or a friend at another place of work, there’s ways you can help.
As with schools, all employers should have procedures in place set out to help deal with workplace bullying and harassment. These tend to be outlined in an employee’s contract or employee handbook. If it’s someone else being bullied, speak to them first to see how they feel, and to find out what’s going on. If it is you being bullied, the best course of action to take is to speak to your manager first, outlining what’s been happening and how it’s making you feel.
“Secondly, we have to think about why a person might engage in behaviour that is aimed at causing harm to others. Perhaps they have themselves been the victim of controlling or abusive behaviours? They may need their own support and help to develop their own empathy and emotional awareness towards others.”