What Is the Relationship Between Bullying and Depression?

Most of us are familiar with the statistics–victims of bullying, as well as the bullies themselves, are at a higher risk of depression and other mental illnesses than those who never encounter bullying. Mental health research has even been looking at the link between bullying and suicide, further cementing the relationship between bullying and depression as a dangerous one. Does that mean that if you’ve been bullied (or are a bully yourself) you’re doomed to have depression and experience suicidal thoughts? Not necessarily, but it would be wise to watch out for the signs and symptoms.

What Does Depression Look Like?

Someone suffering from depression might exhibit symptoms like a persistent feeling of worthlessness, hopelessness, increased isolation, physical exhaustion, irritability, etc. Some colloquially refer to depression as “The Big Sad,” leading to the popularity of TikToker @skettska’s “Life Hacks for The Big Sad” series. With such a vast range of symptoms, depression also boasts a range of causes. Depression can stem from childhood trauma such as bullying, but it can also happen because of chemical imbalance, relationship or career challenges, or chronic physical pain. Some experience temporary, situational bouts of depression, while others contend with a lifelong, clinical illness. Regardless, everyone with depression deserves support on their journey toward better mental health.

What Does Bullying Look Like?

Bullying can also take many forms. From the classic playground bully to the covert cyberbully, people with the inability to resist inflicting pain on others are pretty prevalent in our schools, our workplaces, and even, sometimes, in our families. One way to define bullying is to describe it as one person’s attempt to exert power over another. The bully has a narcissistic tendency to feel superior to others and to prove that superiority using manipulation to control victims. The victim is left feeling powerless, helpless to defend themselves against the bully’s unfairness and cruelty. Not strangely, the symptoms you might experience if you’re being bullied are very similar to those of depression. If you or someone you know exhibits signs of increased isolation or avoidance of social situations like attending school, decreased mood, increased exhaustion or irritability, bullying could be going on behind the scenes.

What to Do if You’re Being Bullied

If you or someone you know is being bullied, don’t wait. Get help. Tell a trusted adult or confide in a counselor to get their advice. Because bullying is so strongly linked to depression and suicide, it may be critical that you address the situation in a timely manner. But proceed with caution. Confronting a bully directly can be risky, emotionally and physically. Consider discussing any plans to stand up to a bully with a professional or an authority figure, like a therapist, police officer, or school counselor. You can’t confront the negative impact bullying has on the lives of its victims until you confront the situation itself, but you shouldn’t do so at the expense of your personal safety. Once the abusive situation is brought to light, both the bully and the bullied have a long road ahead of them. 

How to Heal from Bullying

For the Victim
Nobody deserves to be bullied, least of all you. If you’ve been bullied, we’re so sorry that happened to you, and we want to support you in your healing journey. We encourage you to reach out to one of our Hope Coaches, any of whom would be happy to help you figure out the next steps for recovering your mental health and self-esteem. Know that there are organizations dedicated to putting an end to what you’ve gone through, and we can put you in touch with resources that aid you in dealing with your experience. We also suggest finding a counselor, relying on supportive friends and family, and practicing self-care.

Don’t be ashamed if you experience symptoms of depression as a victim of bullying. Your feelings are not only valid but completely understandable, and better times are ahead. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself the patience and kindness your bully didn’t.

For the Bully
You should consider seeking counseling as well. It’s time to admit that your behavior is harmful to both yourself and others. Whether you are treating people poorly due to a mental illness like narcissistic personality disorder or due to your own unresolved trauma and pain, the longer you allow yourself to be cruel, the more you disrespect yourself and increase your own risk of struggling with depression in the future. You also risk external consequences like expulsion from school, community service, or even jail time, depending on the level of your bullying tactics.

If you’ve already sought help and begun to address your bullying behaviors, you may experience feelings of guilt or shame. You may become overwhelmed by regret, at times even doubting whether you’re worthy of forgiveness or a second chance. Take responsibility for your actions but remember that your mistakes do not have to define you forever. Accept that some bridges may be burned, but know that with support, you can walk in a new direction, not as a bully, but as a kind, compassionate human being worthy of love and acceptance.

Things Will Get Better

Whether you’re in the midst of a bullying situation, struggling with the lasting ramifications of one, or both… know that it won’t always be this way. Healing is possible, and there is hope. If you’re having trouble envisioning a future without the pain that bullying has caused in your life, reach out to TheHopeLine. Christ’s love simultaneously defends us against bullies and offers the bully a chance at true redemption. We want you to know that you’re not alone.

Are you being bullied? Read this blog on how to recognize bullying and how to get help.

Free eBook Understanding Bullying

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