The psychological effects of bullying can manifest in various ways. The most common and influential being low self-esteem, bad mood, and a feeling of loss of control.
A child whom has been raised in a secure home will develop a confident personality with high self-esteem. However, when subjected to bullying he/she will feel a “loss of control”. This inability to maintain control of a situation will make the child feel unsure of himself/herself, thus will affect the level of self-esteem. An emergence of low mood may also emerge, and this contributes to various behavioural dysfunctions.
1. Substance Abuse
A “substance” refers to alcohol, prescribed medication, illegal drugs, and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. It is used to elevate a depressed mood, however has be seen to worsen it. Substance abuse can contribute to the development of many psychological disorders including psychosis (hallucinations and delusions); alcohol-induced amnesia; bi-polar disorder; and conduct disorder. As a short-term effect the child may show signs of the mentioned disorders, but if the misuse is persistent and consistent the child is at greater risk of meeting a full diagnosis.
Self-harm is defined as the intentional harm to one’s body as a means of expression and communication. It can take many forms including cutting, persistent scratching, skin picking, choking oneself, burning oneself, substance abuse, reckless behaviour and eating disorders (discussed below). Children and adolescents will use self-harm as a means of communicating distress. In addition to the physical short-term effects, the individual will experience symptoms related to depression. The most relevant will include suicidal ideation, depressed mood, fatigue and a change in sleep patterns. If the issue of self-harm is not addressed the child is at risk of chronic depression and anxiety disorders with a greater chance of suicide.
3. Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder whereby the individual uses starvation as a means of losing weight. Anorexia is considered a form of self-harm as it is a self-inflicted disorder which can severely affect both your mental and physical health. The symptoms of anorexia include an intense fear of gaining weight, a refusal to maintain a healthy weight and a distorted body image. These symptoms can develop from the low self-esteem bullying incurs. The physical effects of anorexia nervosa are more evident as short-term effects. This will include:
- lanugo hair (a layer of fine hair growth on the arms)
- drop in body temperature
- change in sleep patterns
- stunted growth
- stunted libido
- gastrointestinal disease
Long-term effects include:
- heart conditions
Long-term psychological effects are also evident in those with anorexia nervosa. If the disorder remains untreated these individuals are at greater risk of developing Body Dysmorphic Disorder due to the distorted body image. They are also at higher risk of suicide.
4. Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder similar to anorexia nervosa. It focuses on the individual’s distorted body image and irrational fear of gaining weight. Unlike anorexia, bulimia uses purging or vomiting as a means of controlling weight gain. The short-term effects are comparable to anorexia, however those with bulimia will present with Russell’s Sign – a build-up of calluses on the knuckles caused by the act of inducing vomiting.
5. Affective Disorders
Affective disorders refer to mood and anxiety disorders. Depression, a mood disorder, is a common sign of bullying. It will represent as a disinterest in once enjoyed activities, a low mood, a change in self-esteem and a change in sleep patterns. Some may self-harm and experience ideas of suicide – this is dependent on the severity of the bullying. If untreated, the child is at high risk of developing chronic depression and/or bi-polar disorder.
Anxiety disorders stem from fear and an inability to communicate distress. The frustration of this inability will create a sense of psychological discomfort and anxiety. The child will also develop a fear of the situation in which he/she will interact with the bully. “Anticipatory anxiety” and panic attacks may be experienced. If not treated social anxiety disorder may be a later diagnosis.
6. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder. It occurs when the individual experiences a memory “flashback” of a traumatic event which causes extreme distress. This momentary experience occurs during a state of depersonalisation, thus they are re-living the traumatic event in detail. It is this depersonalisation which contributes to the severe anxiety experienced. Short-term effects among children include loss of interest in enjoyed activities, clinging to guardians, nightmares, bed wetting and mutism (not speaking). If not treated the child will be at higher risk of meeting a full diagnosis of PTSD. Furthermore, those suffering mutism may not regain speech.