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Bullying is not an unfamiliar concept, especially for nearly 20 percent of students aged 12-18. According to the Mental Health First Aid curriculum, one in five American high school students reports being bullied at school each year. In addition, nearly 7 percent of high school students skipped school at least once in the past month because they felt unsafe either at school or on their way to or from school.

Unfortunately, changes brought on by COVID-19 haven’t helped. Research has shown that prior to the pandemic, cyberbullying had a much lower prevalence than traditional forms of bullying. Now, many instances of traditional forms of bullying are transferring to digital devices. With millions of young people spending time online for school and socialization, there is an increased risk for cyberbullying; and as young people return to in-person learning, traditional forms of bullying may increase as well.

You are not alone and help is available if you or someone you know is experiencing bullying. If you are personally experiencing bullying, consider reaching out to an adult you trust for support. The adult can help stop the bullying by dealing with the bullies directly. You can also get advice from the adult on the best way to handle the situation.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency situation or considering suicide, call 911, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “MHFA” to 741-741 for 24/7 confidential counseling from the Crisis Text Line.

If your friend or classmate is being bullied, you can help.

According to Mental Health First Aid, research has shown that bullying has serious and lasting negative effects on the mental wellbeing of teens involved in bullying in any way, including those who bully others or the teens who are bullied. In addition, being bullied can be traumatizing and put a young person at an increased risk of harming themselves or others.

It’s crucial that as a young person, you have the skills and information needed to help your peers navigate this difficult situation and get the help and support they need. Use these tips from teen Mental Health First Aid as a place to start:

  1. Support your friend. Knowing that someone else is on their side can make a big difference and remind them that they are not alone.
  2. Speak up if you hear others bullying your friend. Stand up to the bully if you feel safe to do so. Do it in a way that’s calm and firm, rather than dramatic, sarcastic or emotional. Don’t let things escalate into arguing, planning revenge or being mean, and don’t use violence; these actions don’t help and can make a bad situation worse. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking directly to the bully, that’s OK too.
  3. Talk to an adult at your school about what’s going on. The adult can help stop the bullying by dealing with the bullies directly. You can also get advice from the adult on the best ways you and your friend can handle the situation. They can also help you find out more about your school’s protocol for handling bullying.
  4. If the bullying is happening online or over text, take note of everything. It’s important to write down everything that happens, save screenshots of bullying messages and report the behavior so the bullying can be addressed. You can report cyberbullying to the social media service provider and adults at school or in your organization so they can investigate. When cyberbullying involves threats of violence or sexual content or photos, it may be a criminal offense.
  5. If the bullying involves threats or your friend is in danger of harming themselves, talk to a trusted adult immediately.If the person being bullied is at risk of injury by the bully and you cannot find an adult, call 911.

It’s important that any instances of bullying are taken seriously and that you are not afraid to ask for help for yourself or your peers. As a teen Mental Health First Aider, you can take steps to minimize the impact of bullying and create a culture of zero tolerance. Lead by example and #BeTheDifference for your friends and classmates.

For more information on how you can support those around you, check out these blogs and resources:

  1. Prevent Youth Suicide with Mental Health First Aid
  2. How You Can Help a Friend in Crisis
  3. How to Help a Friend Online

To learn more about teen Mental Health First Aid, visit MHFA.org/teens.

References:

British Journal of General Practice. (2021, March). Bullying during COVID-19: The impact on child and adolescent health. Retrieved September 27, 2021, from https://bjgp.org/content/71/704/122.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (2020, October 27). Cyberbullying during COVID-19. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://www.chop.edu/news/health-tip/cyberbullying-during-covid-19.

Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). teen Mental Health First Aid USA: A manual for young people in 10th–12th grade helping their friends. National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, August 27). What is cyberbullying. StopBullying.gov. Retrieved September 14, 2021, from https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it.