Bullying is aggressive behavior toward another person. It is repetitive and intentionally hurts people physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Bullying can include name-calling, intentionally excluding someone, physically hurting someone, or cyberbullying.

This article examines what bullying can involve, why people may bully, and what steps to take if a person is experiencing bullying.

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According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and repetitive.

It involves an imbalance of power, such as using physical strength, popularity, or certain information to control others or cause them discomfort or harm.

Bullying can include the following behaviors:

  • physical violence
  • verbal abuse
  • threats
  • spreading rumors
  • purposefully excluding someone

It can happen anywhere, for example:

  • online
  • at school or the workplace
  • at home

According to data from 2019, around 22% of school students ages 12 to 18 years experienced bullying throughout the school year, and around 16% of those in grades 9 to 12 experienced cyberbullying in the last year.

Data from 2021 states that 15% of school students in grades 9 to 12 experienced bullying at school within the previous year.

Bullying can take many different forms. Types of bullying include the following:

  • Verbal bullying: This includes saying or writing things that hurt another person, such as teasing, name-calling, threats, and inappropriate sexual remarks.
  • Physical bullying: This includes physically hurting another person, for example, hitting, kicking, or tripping them up. It can also include making rude hand gestures or stealing or ruining a person’s possessions.
  • Social bullying: This involves intentionally causing harm to a person’s reputation or relationships. Examples include purposefully excluding someone, spreading rumors, or embarrassing someone on purpose in public.
  • Cyberbullying: This is a form of verbal bullying that happens through electronic devices. People may verbally abuse others through social media, emails, or phone messaging.

A range of factors may cause people to bully others.

Are you being bullied?

If you are being bullied, it is essential to remember that you are not alone, and it is not your fault.

Help and support are available, including crisis resources. For more details, see the “When and how to seek help for bullying” section below. You can also find more evidence-backed advice in our mental health hub.

If you need help right now, text HOME to 741741 or chat with a crisis counselor.

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Peer factors

People may bully others to:

  • get or maintain social power
  • try to elevate their status within their peer group
  • exclude others
  • fit in

Family factors

People may bully others due to factors related to their upbringing. For example, a person who bullies others may have parents or caregivers who:

  • behave in ways that are controlling, overly strict, or reactive
  • provide low levels of guidance, structure, or involvement
  • having difficulty providing emotional support

They may also come from a home where bullying, violence, or aggression is present.

Emotional factors

Some people bully others due to:

  • previous or current experiences of bullying
  • a lack of communication and emotional support
  • insecurity and low self-esteem, which may make them seek ways of feeling more powerful
  • a lack of understanding about how other people feel
  • difficulty managing their emotions or reactions or handling social situations
  • feelings of envy or resentment

School or work factors

People may be able to bully others due to a lack of response from the school or workplace where the bullying occurs. They may also feel excluded or face stigma from those around them.

Bullying can have many adverse effects on both the person experiencing the bullying as well as the person bullying them and bystanders.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bullying can lead to:

  • physical injury
  • social, psychological, and emotional distress
  • self-harm
  • suicide

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Bullying can increase the risk of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. It can also increase the risk of sleep issues, reduced academic or work performance, and dropping out of school.

People who bully others have an increased risk of:

  • substance misuse
  • academic problems
  • experiencing violence in later life
  • behavioral and mental health issues

People who witness bullying are also at an increased risk of substance use, mental health issues, and missing school.

Learn more about the effects of bullying.

If people are experiencing bullying, it is important they speak with someone about it. This may include:

  • a teacher or member of staff at the school
  • a manager or member of the HR department at work
  • a parent or caregiver
  • a counselor or mental health professional

It is especially important to seek help as soon as possible if a person feels unsafe or if bullying is affecting their physical, emotional, or mental health.

If a person feels in immediate danger, they can call 911.

Are you bullying others?

If you notice yourself bullying others, try to understand how your behavior affects them.

Imagining how the other person feels can help you avoid repeating the behavior. Apologizing and following through with better behavior can help both parties.

You can also try speaking with a trusted friend or family member about what feelings might be leading you to behave this way. If possible, it may also help to speak with a mental health professional. They can help you develop new coping mechanisms and move forward in a healthier way.

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Advice for parents or caregivers

Stomp Out Bullying provides the following advice for parents or caregivers of a child who is experiencing bullying:

  • document all reports of the bullying, including the time, place, and the people and behaviors involved
  • contact the school and arrange a meeting with the principal
  • report the facts of the bullying and ask for support
  • write down the response from the principal
  • follow up with the child and the principal to check if the bullying has stopped
  • report any cyberbullying to the school, the police, and the site it is taking place on
  • if the bullying continues, file charges with the school board
  • if a bully has threatened a child outside of school, contact the police

Bullying helplines

People can contact the following helplines for support relating to bullying and its potential effects:

Stomp Out Bullying’s HelpChat Crisis Line

The Stomp Out Bullying HelpChat Crisis Line is a free and confidential online chat that is open on Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time.

People ages 13 to 24 can use it to get support with bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide risk.

Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

People can call 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The helpline is available 24/7 and provides free, confidential support for people in crisis or distress.

LGBT National Youth Talkline

The LGBT National Youth Talkline provides space for people to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity issues, including those connected to bullying or problems at school.

People can call 800-246-7743 between the following times:

  • Monday to Friday: 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Pacific time or 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Eastern
  • Saturday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific time or 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern

Stop Bullying Now Hotline

People can call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the Stop Bullying Now Hotline, available 24/7. The United States Department of Health and Human Services established this helpline to help deal with bullying.

The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project provides free, confidential support 24/7 to young people who identify as LGBTQ+.

People can contact a crisis counselor by texting START to 678-678, calling 1-866-488-7386, or chatting online.

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Bullying is a type of aggressive behavior that causes physical, emotional, or psychological distress or harm to another person.

If people are experiencing bullying, it is important they tell someone and seek support. A person who feels in immediate danger should call 911. If people are feeling in crisis or suicidal, they can call 988.

It is also important for people who are bullying others to seek help with understanding what may be causing this behavior.