Bullying & Mental Health

Bullying is associated with many mental health problems, including eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, and depression. Victims are also more likely to have low self-esteem and suffer from issues with confidence and conflict management. In addition, childhood bullies are likely to repeat their bullying behavior as adults, landing themselves in anything from legal trouble to relational issues and conflicts at work. Bullying is a lose-lose for all involved and it is up to parents, schools, and communities to act in ways that put a stop to behaviours that cause emotional, mental, and physical harm.

One movement, celebrated around the world recently, was Pink Shirt Day, which was celebrated in many communities on Wednesday, Feb. 22, this year. Those interested in highlighting the issue of bullying wore pink shirts, encouraging kindness and standing up against bullying. Pink Shirt Day started in Nova Scotia (2007), as a result of two teens who were committed to ending the problem of bullying by wearing and distributing pink shirts after seeing a peer being bullied for wearing pink. Today, over 1.1 million Canadian school children are bullied at least once every week[1]; movements like this, however, show the power of taking a stand in a positive direction!

An Issue Worth Standing Up To

Bullying among children and youth is defined as repeated, unwanted, aggressive behaviour(s) by a youth or group of youths: it involves observed or perceived power imbalances and can result in physical, social, or educational harm or distress[2].  In 2018, a large Canadian sample of youth in grades 6 to 10 were asked if they had been involved in bullying and 20% reported having been bullied. Recently, according to another study through Public Safety Canada, one third of teenagers noted having been bullied[3]; and observational research of elementary school children shows that bullying incidents occur every 7 minutes on the playground and once every 25 minutes in a classroom[4].

The good news, however, is that identifying bullies and victims, raising awareness, talking about the issue, and increasing supervision in known locations for bullying can help tremendously. Parents and teachers can help by talking about the potential for bullying behaviour and by unpacking issues and concerns calmly and proactively. Bullying is anti-social behaviour and it can be targeted in schools and homes by helping children develop better empathy and care for each other. If bullying is addressed and faced with conversation and connection, and not ignored, it helps to develop the understanding that bullying will not be tolerated, and these conversations go a long way in supporting victims. Groups for both bullies and the bullied can help also. Through awareness and programming, it has been proven that bullying can be reduced.

Steps to Take

1. Talk to kids openly: let kids know they can trust you and they shouldn’t deal with bullying alone.

2. Teach kindness and empathy skills directly: practice conflict resolution, working through problems, and building understanding of others.

3. Create opportunities for connection: a sense of community lowers bullying incidents and facilitates healing for those targeted.

4. Teach kids to speak up when they witness bullying behavior: taking a stand against bullying can reduce future bullying situations by more than 50 percent.

5. Use books and creative resources: hold discussions on bullying and its impact, often.

To learn more, you can follow Dr. Judy on Instagram @drjudyjaunzemsfernuk or reach out to her to discuss the impact of bullying and ways to solve bullying issues appropriately and healthfully.  Judy can be reached best through e-mail:


[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Retrieved from


[4] Craig, W. & Pepler, D. (1997).  Observations of bullying and victimization in the schoolyard. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 2, 41-60. 

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