Bullied Kids Face Serious and Surprising Health Risks

In one way or another, we all have experienced, directly or indirectly, the effects of bullying. In fact, bullying affects a person’s well-being, both physically and mentally – especially children.

Many adults still see bullying as just part of being a kid or a normal part of childhood. This is far from the truth.  The effects of bullying are detrimental to a child’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

Bullying is not only affecting kids and teens here in the United States, but it is also an issue of epidemic proportions in many other countries, including Great Britain. It is well-known in the psychiatric community that some of the effects of bullying in children include a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, poor performance in school, but most startling, an increase in the risk of suicide.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young people in the United States. There are about 4,000 to 5,000 suicides per year among young people, and victims of bullying are five to seven-times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims of bullying, according to a Yale University study.

Furthermore, an anti-bullying charity in the UK found that at least half of all suicides in young people ages 10-14 are related to being a victim of bullying. The charity’s research was independently verified by Dr. Benjamin Richardson of Warwick University.

Young girls ages 10-14 years old, and especially young Latino girls, seem to be at an even a higher risk for bullying-related suicide, according to research published in The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

As awareness of the effects of bullying on children grows, more statistics are being reported, and the incidents of bullying and its consequences are alarming.

As a result, homeschooling is, in fact, on the rise in the United States, as parents look for ways to protect their children.  An eye-opening statistic, reported by ABC News, revealed that up to 160,000 school-aged children stay home from school each and every day because of bullying fears.

How can I prevent bullying?

While many states are implementing laws against bullying, and some have even filed lawsuits against certain schools, it’s essential for parents to get involved.

Parents are their children’s best advocate for their health and well-being.  It is vital for parents to get involved by talking to school authorities if they sense that something is not right with their child.

As a doctor of internal medicine and a family physician for over 30 years, I have treated everyone “in the family,” including children of all ages.

And as a specialist of integrative medicine, I not only attend to and address their physical ailments, but emotional and mental ones, as well.

More importantly, I am also a dad myself.  To help prevent bullying before it even starts, I highly recommend:

  1. Being aware of your children’s surroundings, and insist on knowing all of their friends and social networking interactions. It gives us the ability to see social media exchanges between our kids, their friends, and classmates, and be aware if someone is posting inappropriate messages online or via text. We can use technology to our advantage to keep a healthy control on our children and prevent bullying.
  2. Being present encourages children and teens to interact with their parents, giving us a chance to open up a routine dialogue about school and their lives, in general, according to a 2014 study published  in JAMA Pediatrics. And by spending more time at the dinner table and at home together as a family it will help promote regular discussions as a family.
  3. It is also crucial to listen to your kids and talk to them about bullying.  As parents, we need to reassure our kids that bullying is completely unacceptable. Making sure your children or child understand(s) bullying, and knowing how to get help if they feel threatened, is a key to stopping it in its tracks.

Sometimes even with proper education and awareness though, it is not always enough.

We cannot make decisions for our children. All we can do is offer guidance and help as much as we possibly can.

As a measure of precaution, I always recommend to parents to keep weapons and medications away from all school-aged children.  Any talk or threats of suicide should also always be taken seriously. Seek professional help immediately for a full mental health evaluation of your child if the issue of suicide or harming his or herself ever arises.

It is our job to spread the word and keep our kids safe.  Be part of the change and help create a bully-free world.