The effects of bullying can include worsening mental and physical health, changes in brain functioning, low self-esteem, and a decline in academic and work performance.

Bullying can affect all involved, including those being bullied, those who bully others, and bystanders.

This article looks at the effects of bullying on all these groups. It also explores the relationship between bullying and suicide, seeking help for bullying, and what a person can do if they notice they are bullying others or if they witness bullying.

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This article includes content that some readers may find upsetting. Please read at your own discretion.

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Much of the research on the effects of bullying focuses on children and adolescents.

According to a 2022 study, 20–56% of children and adolescents are involved in bullying each year. The researchers note that bullying tends to be most severe in those ages 11–13 years.

Mental and emotional health effects

According to a 2016 article, the mental and emotional health effects in children and adolescents who are bullied may include:

Physical effects

Bullying can lead to prolonged stress, which can cause physical symptoms due to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

This can affect a person’s biological functions and lead to physical effects such as:

Behavioral effects

Behavioral effects on children and adolescents who are bullied can include:

  • social withdrawal
  • reduced academic performance
  • drug and alcohol misuse and dependence
  • difficulty forming and maintaining relationships
  • impulsive, risk-taking, or criminal behaviors
  • aggression
  • self-harm
  • suicide

Among adults

Bullying also occurs in various adult contexts, such as the workplace.

Workplace bullying can lead to the following:

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 “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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Bullying others can have mental, emotional, and physical consequences.

According to a 2016 article, various research has found that those who bully others may be at higher risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms and psychosomatic problems. Psychosomatic problems involve physical symptoms such as fatigue or headaches.

Those who are bullied and also bully others may experience more severe effects than other groups involved in bullying.

The effects include many of those listed in the previous section, such as sleep difficulties, low self-esteem, and depression.

Bullying can negatively affect those who witness it, even if they are not directly involved.

Children and adolescents who witness bullying may experience:

  • anxiety
  • insecurity
  • feelings of fear and helplessness
  • increased mental health risk
  • increased likelihood of substance use
  • suicidal thoughts

In adults who witness workplace bullying, the effects can include:

  • a decline in physical health
  • mental health conditions
  • job dissatisfaction

Bullying may increase the risk of a person experiencing suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide.

In a 2022 study, researchers cited rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, respectively, in the following groups:

  • People who were bullied: 21.8% and 6.5%
  • People who bullied others: 16.5% and 5.0%
  • People who bullied others and were bullied: 26.1% and 11.1%

Among people who were not involved in bullying, the rates were lower, at 6.3% and 1.2%, respectively.

Types of bullying and suicide risk

Researchers have found that certain types of bullying may contribute more than others to suicide in young people. These include:

  • cyberbullying
  • bullying focused on gender and sexual identity
  • social bullying, which includes name-calling, spreading rumors, and social exclusion

Research has also found that workplace bullying among adults may contribute to suicide, especially in males.

A large-scale 2022 study found that males who experienced workplace bullying and had no previous history of suicide attempts were more likely to attempt suicide than females who had experienced workplace bullying and the larger population.

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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Help is available for people who are experiencing bullying.

If possible, it may be best for children and adolescents to reach out to a parent or caregiver for help and advice. Alternatively, they may wish to speak to a trusted teacher, principal, or school counselor.

Adults who experience workplace bullying can seek help from the following people:

  • a manager or supervisor
  • their HR department
  • an employee representative, such as a union official
  • a mental health professional

It is best that they keep track of bullying incidents and compile any available evidence in case they want to file a formal complaint in the future.

If a person is being cyberbullied, they may be able to block cyberbullies from their social media and ensure their profiles are set to private. It is best to avoid responding to cyberbullying and keep any messages. A child may be able to show the messages to a trusted adult.

How parents and caregivers can help

Family members and trusted adults may be able to help a child who is being bullied in the following ways:

  • At school: Schools can implement antibullying measures, such as educating children on empathy, what constitutes bullying, and how to support peers.
  • At home: Parents and caregivers can warn children about signs of bullying and help them understand that being bullied does not reflect who they are. It may also help to practice ways to respond to people who bully others.
  • Contacting a mental health professional: If a child experiences stress, depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues as a result of bullying, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor may be able to help them manage their symptoms.

Helplines to call

The following organizations may also be able to help:

  • No Bully: A person can visit their website or call 1-866-488-7386.
  • STOMP Out Bullying: A person can visit their website or use their online chat.
  • The Trevor Project: The Trevor Project offers suicide prevention and crisis support for LGBTQ+ youth. People can reach them in the following ways:
    • call 866-488-7386
    • text START to 678678
    • start an online chat

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. It may also help to speak with a mental health professional if possible. They can help you develop new coping mechanisms and move forward in a healthier way.

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Research on bystanders in workplace bullying found that intervening in workplace bullying increases employers’ likelihood of addressing the issue.

People who intervened in bullying were also less likely to become a target of workplace bullying than those who did not.

If it is safe, it is also best for a child or adolescent who witnesses bullying to tell the person bullying others to stop. They should also avoid joining in or laughing at the behavior.

If telling the person to stop is not safe, they can do the following:

  • leave discreetly and report the bullying to an adult
  • text or call an adult for help
  • offer support to the victim and encourage them to talk with an adult

Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about bullying.

What might cause a person to bully someone else?

Many factors may lead a person to bully others. People may behave this way if they have difficulty coping with their social environment or want to establish their social status or public image.

They may also have learned to deal with conflict this way in their household or have specific traits that may contribute to bullying, such as emotional dysregulation.

How common is bullying?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 high school students reported that they were being bullied, and 1 in 6 reported that they had experienced cyberbullying.

Almost 40% of high school students who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual reported being bullied.

Bullying can negatively affect all involved, causing physical and mental health effects. As a result, those who are bullied and those who bully others may face a higher risk of suicide.

Help and resources are available for people who are involved in bullying. Trusted friends, family members, and mental health professionals can help individuals cope with the effects of bullying. Schools and workplaces can implement interventions to minimize and manage this behavior.