Bullying (both in person and cyberbullying) has finally been taken more seriously by the authorities. Until recently there weren’t explicit laws to make cyberbullying illegal although many states are now working to change that.
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal finds that people that were frequently bullied as teenagers were much more likely to experience depression as adults (15%) compared to people that were not bullied (5%). Bullying of any kind at any age can be traumatic as it alienates the individual, shames them, potentially shattering the individual’s perception of self-worth.
I specialize in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and work with many trauma survivors, including active duty Marines, Veterans, as well as sexual assault and other trauma survivors. Of those people that were bullied in childhood, people that experience trauma in their adult life are far more likely to develop PTSD than those who were not bullied or abused.
Why does that happen?
In our childhood and adolescence we are developing an understanding about how the world works. If we are attacked, abused, or bullied, it sends a message that the world is dangerous, that people aren’t to be trusted, and that we are not good enough (or a failure, or a loser, or fat, or ugly, or unlovable). This alone might not only lead to the feelings of depression and low self-worth, this traumatic experience can actually rewire our brain and our genetic code!
In addition, if we are exposed to additional trauma, our internal beliefs about the dangerousness of the world, about our own poor self-worth, and the overall hopelessness of the situation, might be triggered. When this happens, some people are then likely to withdraw from their friends, become severely depressed, angry, or irritable, and possibly contemplate or attempt suicide. Every day approximately 105 people commit suicide in the United States alone. The number one cause of attempted suicide is depression and it is possible that at least 30% of depression cases can be linked to a history of being bullied.
Caitlyn Jenner has been in the news a lot lately. Overall, it seems like there has been a lot of positive support for her transformation, however, it certainly wasn’t without some cruel remarks. In fact, some surveys suggest that 50% of transgender population members attempt suicide in their lifetime. Many of them succeed.
What can be done?
The opposite of bullying is compassion and the opposite of compassion is apathy. It may not always be possible to stop bullying altogether but it is always possible to reach out to the person being bullied. Whether it is to share a personal experience, or to let the person know that you care, that they are not alone, can make a huge impact. It only takes a small gesture to let someone know that you care, and that one gesture can make a huge difference.
We don’t always know what other people are going through, and because of that we can try to adopt a general rule of being kind. So often someone can snap at us or cut us off on the road. There’s a good chance that that particular individual was bullied that day or just received some devastating news. Offer a smile. Offer a kind gesture. You never know, you might be saving a life.
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full time geek. She uses Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and chronic pain to become the very best versions of themselves and become their own heroes. She can be reached via Twitter @shadowquill, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Shadow.Scarletl, or via her website at www.superhero-therapy.com