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X-Raying the Effects of Bullying on Physical and Mental Health By Maimuna Katuka Aliyu

I find it difficult to believe that the majority of those reading this piece right now, do not know what bullying is all about. Bullying, as a matter of fact, is a common phenomenon among us now. Being bullied is both heartbreaking and miserable for those targeted.

But many adults, unless they too have been bullied, have a hard time understanding just how much kids can suffer from being bullied. They fail to realize that the consequences of bullying are significant and can have a lasting impact on one’s mental and physical health.

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), bullying has a lifelong impact on the social and emotional development of children, that puts them at risk for everything: from severe mental health issues to stunted professional growth later in life.
Bullying is the use of force, coercion, hurtful teasing or threat, to abuse, aggressively dominate or intimidate an individual. The behavior is often repeated and habitual.

In Nigeria, this mostly occurs in boarding schools among seniors who take advantage of their timid and weak juniors, there by forcing them to do their bidding’s such as washing of clothes, assignments, cleaning their rooms, collecting their foods, punishing and beating them as they wish.

According to NICHD, children who are involved in bullying experiences (on either side of the situation) are at an increased risk of developing issues on both mental and physical health aspects. Bullying can have physical, social, and emotional effects, too.

The physical effects of bullying include:
– Stress response
– Headaches
– Muscle pain
– Digestive upset
– Weight changes etc.

Those who are bullied are at increased risk for mental health problems such as:
– Depression and anxiety
– Low self-esteem and personal drive
– Trouble focusing and falling grades
– Behavioral problems
– Social and relationship issues
– Substance abuse later in life
– Dropping out from school
– Self-harming behaviors etc.

Bullying can also affect other children who witness the acts even if they aren’t directly involved. While it may seem obvious that those who are bullied have a higher risk of developing developmental issues, what’s less obvious is that bullying also affects the on-lookers.

Bullying brings negative affects to everyone who witnesses the act by way of creating what feels like an unsafe environment. It can make children feel as though they are helpless, planting a deep seed of insecurity and disdain for their classroom (and classmates) as a whole.

Bullying also makes kids feel as though they can’t be protected by those they trust (teachers, aides, parents, etc.), which can lead to withdrawal and a failure to thrive. Research shows that bullying and harassment can cause adult symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In fact, one study examining mental health in college students found experiencing bullying to be the strongest predictor of developing PTSD symptoms.
Often times, it is withdrawal that is the first and most obvious sign that bullying is taking place, apart from actually seeing the incident in person.

Over time, if bullying continues, those who witness it will likely begin to show other signs such as attention issues, fear of participating in normal activities, and acting out or other behavioral problems such as vandalism or destroying toys or objects. Because kids rarely tell an adult when they experience bullying, it’s important that parents, teachers, and other caregivers are aware of the warning signs.

For instance, kids may hint that they are being bullied by saying there is drama at school, that kids are messing with them, or that they have no friends. These are all signs that they are experiencing bullying. If your kids confess to being a target, tell them you are proud of them for having the courage to talk about it.

This reinforces that you value having an open dialogue about issues they’re facing. It’s also important that you believe what your kids tell you and that you make a commitment to work with them to find solutions. While it can be difficult, try to keep your emotions in check. Instead, remain calm and work with your child to make a plan.

When kids feel as if they have options, they are less likely to be overwhelmed with negative feelings. In addition, efforts to advocate on behalf of victims will not be effective unless people truly comprehend how painful and traumatic bullying can be.

Kids who are regularly targeted by bullies often suffer both emotionally and socially. Not only do they find it hard to make friends, but they also struggle to maintain healthy friendships. Part of this struggle is directly related to low self-esteem.

A lack of self-esteem is a direct result of the mean and hurtful things that other kids say about them. When kids are continuously called “fat” or “losers,” they begin to believe these things are true. Many times, kids feel like they need to accept occasional bullying in order to belong. As a result, they will succumb to peer pressure and accept bullying as a way to maintain their social standing.

Kids who are victimized often yearn for acceptance from the very people who are bullying them. In order to remain part of the group, they may tolerate fake friendships and mean behavior especially if the person bullying them has a higher social standing than they do.

In fact, research shows that 50% of students between the ages of 12 and 18 who have been bullied report that the bully had more social influence. In addition, 31% indicate that they had more money. Bullying victims also tend to experience a wide range of emotions. They may feel angry, bitter, vulnerable, helpless, frustrated, lonely, and isolated from their peers.

Consequently, they may skip classes and resort to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain. If bullying is on-going, they may develop depression and even contemplate suicide. Aside from the bumps and bruises that occur during physical bullying, there are additional physical costs. For instance, bullied kids often experience anxiety. This stress on their bodies also will result in a variety of health issues, including being sick more often and suffering from ulcers and other conditions caused by persistent anxiety.

Bullied kids also may complain of stomachaches and headaches. The bullying they experience may aggravate other pre-existing conditions like eczema. Skin conditions, stomach issues, and heart conditions that are aggravated by stress all worsen when a child is being bullied.

Kids who are bullied often suffer academically, too. Bullied kids struggle to focus on their schoolwork. In fact, slipping grades is one of the first signs that a child is being bullied. Kids also may be so pre-occupied by bullying that they forget about assignments or have difficulty paying attention in class.

Additionally, bullied kids may skip school or classes in order to avoid being bullied. This practice results in falling grades. When grades begin to drop this adds to the stress levels the bullied child is already experiencing. A study conducted by the University of Virginia showed that kids who attend a school with a severe climate of bullying often have lower scores on standardized tests.

When a child is bullied, it is not uncommon for the parents and siblings to also be affected. Parents often experience a wide range of consequences including feeling powerless to fix the situation. They also may feel alone and isolated. And they may even become obsessed with the situation often at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. It also is not uncommon for parents to feel a sense of failure when their child is bullied.

Not only do they feel like they failed to protect the child from bullying, but they also may question their parenting abilities. They may even worry that they somehow missed the signs of bullying or that they did not do enough to bully-proof their child along the way. The truth is that no one can predict who bullies will target.

Parents can do everything right and still find out that their child is being bullied. As a result, they should never feel responsible for the choices a bully makes. Instead, they should place the blame where it belongs and focus on helping their child heal from bullying.

Research shows that bullying has a lot of effects which lasts well into adulthood. In fact, one study found that the consequences of being bullied by peers may have a greater impact on mental health in adulthood than originally thought. Remember, the experiences that people have while they are children help mold them into the adults that they later become. So it is not surprising that the effects of bullying linger well into adulthood.

But having a counselor help your child with the recovery process may speed things along. If you were bullied as a child and are still experiencing the side effects, the first step toward recovery from childhood bullying is acknowledging what happened to you. Do not dismiss what happened to you or minimize the severity.

Be truthful with yourself about the pain you experienced. You also need to make healing a priority. Take time to take care of yourself and consider talking with a counselor about your experience. A counselor can help you make sense of your feelings and move past the negative experience of bullying. He also can help you reframe your thinking and reclaim control over your life.

While it may be painful to think about the bullying you experienced as a kid, if it is still impacting your everyday life and the way you view yourself, then it is best to face the issue head-on. Once you have come to terms with what you experienced and changed the way you view yourself and others, you will be on your way to recovery.

Conclusively, bullying prevention has been put in the spotlight in recent years and has gained momentum in educational facilities across most countries or worldly. Many schools and childcare providers now implement some variation of an anti-bullying policy, which has had a major impact on developing minds everywhere.

Most anti-bullying policies include tips such as keeping a watchful eye, utilizing activities that encourage kids to speak up about their experiences, and keeping an open line of communication with youngsters to ensure they are comfortable with sharing any unwanted behaviors by others. It is time bullying in whatever form is stopped in Nigeria. One hopes that the government, school managements and the society at large, will do something to tackle the vicious malaise.

Maimuna Katuka Aliyu is an executive intern with PRNigeria in Abuja.