October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a month dedicated to uniting communities around the world to educate and raise awareness of bullying and preventable measures. According to statistics one in five children admit to being bullied and bullying is not only isolated as a childhood problem but also affects adolescents and adults as well. Bullying comes in many different shapes and sizes from physical attacks and verbal insults to cyberbullying, social manipulation, and inappropriate sexual advances, some forms of bullying can be discrete enough to go unnoticed by many. The intent of the bully is to assert dominance, power, and social control over the victim. Individuals who are bullied often appear anxious, withdrawn, or depressed. They may be too embarrassed to tell others about their torment and as a result, will often turn to drugs, alcohol, or food to cope with their feelings.
“People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” ― Dan Pearce
Bullying and mental health
Bullying can take a toll on one’s emotional and mental well-being over time. Bullying breaks down one’s self-esteem and distorts their self-image, which can trigger a host of negative and dangerous feelings. Individuals who do not have a strong support system or who have an underlying mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety are more at risk of damaging their mental health. Victims of bullying are at an increased risk of isolation and loneliness, which can often drive them to fight back and act out, potentially resulting in violent outbursts or illegal activity. Bullies are also at extreme risk of engaging in illegal activity and developing mental health disorders including anti-social personality disorder. Bully-victims—those who both bully and are bullied—suffer the most serious effects. They are at greater risk for mental and behavioral problems than those who are victims or bullies alone. Rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation and behaviors are greatest in this group.
Duke University recently conducted research that shows the rates for agoraphobia and panic disorders greatly increases with bullying. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low esteem haunt many adults who were once bullied in childhood. Additionally, a new study out of King’s College London in the United Kingdom suggests that that bullying may cause physical changes in the brain and increase the chance of mental illness. The results showed that severe bullying was linked to changes in brain volume and levels of anxiety at age 19. Bullying may decrease the volume of parts of the brain called the caudate and putamen. The caudate plays a crucial role in how the brain learns, specifically how it process memories. This part of the brain uses information from past experiences to influence future actions and decisions. The putamen regulates movements and affects learning.
Long-term risks associated with bullying
With immediate and proper mental health treatment and support systems in place, the prevention of long term consequences associated with bullying can be minimized. Without intervention, however, kids are at risk for the following:
- Chronic depression
- Increased risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide plans, and suicide attempts
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Poor general health
- Self-destructive behavior, including self-harm
- Substance abuse
- Difficulty establishing trusting, reciprocal friendships and relationships
Bullying and substance abuse
If an individual is experiencing constant teasing, social exclusion, or any other form of bullying, he or she may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to escape from feelings of worthlessness and loneliness. Being a victim of bullying takes a toll and can lead to a great deal of emotional turmoil and trauma creating the need for an “escape”. Drugs and alcohol can have temporary mind-altering qualities that can allow the individual to escape from reality, which can allow them to forget about their bully and have temporary relief from emotional pain. Mind-altering chemicals such as drugs and alcohol may provide temporary relief but they also result in a dangerous slippery slope that can lead to addiction. The more the individual holds onto drugs and alcohol as an emotional crutch, the more the individual will feel they constantly need a fix. Soon enough, drugs and alcohol are at the forefront of their life and their bully does not only torment them but they are also tormented by their addiction.
Bullying in treatment
Many individuals who enter substance abuse treatment are often uncomfortable sharing about their addiction and experience with others out of fear they may be shamed or ridiculed. Stigma and shame both go hand in hand with bullying and unfortunately bullying in treatment is a silent pandemic. Family members, friends, co-workers, and strangers may spew hurtful comments, pass judgment, and portray passive-aggressive behaviors towards their loved one who is in treatment. Although they may do this subconsciously, out of anger, or because they are hurt; this is a form of bullying that can hinder their loved one’s treatment and recovery.
If you are struggling with a substance use disorder or are currently in treatment or recovery, it is imperative that you step away from anyone who is causing you emotional, mental, or physical harm. Often times, we are so focused on our recovery that we don’t recognize that these individuals are bullies and as a result, we allow them to continue to wreak havoc on our emotional states.
Seeking help at Quest 2 Recovery
“Our philosophy at Quest 2 Recovery is simple: heal the mind, body, and spirit in a family-like environment. We believe in a holistic approach to treatment, one that caters to each individual’s distinct needs. As a trauma-based treatment program, we believe in resolving the underlying issues that brought the onset of substance use. Our team of clinicians helps each client identify the faulty belief systems stemming from childhood, then psych-educate clients on the symptoms of mental health and substance use disorders to understand and alleviate the power of certain triggers”.