Bullying Changes Brain Structure, Raises Mental Health Risk

Bullying Changes Brain Structure, Raises Mental Health Risk


Did you know that…

As many as 1 in 3 kids in school say they have been bullied at school?

About 1 in 7 adolescents say they’ve been cyberbullied?

Nearly 1 in 3 students admit to bullying others?

Over 7 in 10 students have witnessed someone being bullied?

The effects of bullying can be devastating for everyone involved—the bullies, the victims, and the bystanders. Some of the negative consequences can have lifelong impacts.

Altered Brain Structure

Research from a 2018 issue of Molecular Psychiatry shows that being bullied can also lead to physical changes in the brain. In this neuroimaging study, students who had been bullied showed decreased volume in two regions of the brain involved in how the brain processes memories and in movement and learning. The researchers suggest these changes are related to increased levels of anxiety by the age of 19.

Heightened Risk of Mental Health Issues

Bullying puts kids at increased risk of depression and anxiety disorders, not only during childhood and adolescence when the bullying occurs, but also long after the victimization stops. A 2015 study in JAMA Psychiatry tracked about 5,000 children from age 8 to 29 and found that being bullied at a young age raises the risk of depression as a young adult. Kids who were frequently bullied and who bullied others at age 8 had the highest incidence of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and substance abuse.

Increased Risk of Suicide

Young people who have been bullied are 2 to 9 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts compared with students who haven’t been victimized.

Greater Risk of Substance Abuse

Bullying makes kids more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as adolescents and to have addiction problems as adults.

Lowered School Performance

Bullying reduces grades and academic performance and makes kids more likely to skip school or drop out.

Recognize the 4 Types of Bullying

You may think its only physical aggression that can have such a negative impact on a child’s brain development and mental well-being, but any type of bullying can lead to lasting consequences. Bullies may harass a child about their appearance, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or even a mental health condition, such as ADD/ADHD, anxiety, or OCD.

The 4 different types of bullying are:

  • Physical Bullying: This involves any form of physical contact, including pushing, shoving, hitting, slapping, kicking, pinching, or tripping.
  • Verbal bullying: Some bullies victimize others with name-calling, harsh teasing, threats, or inappropriate comments.
  • Social bullying: Deliberately preventing a child or adolescent from being part of a group activity is a form of bullying.
  • Cyberbullying: Some bullies target their victims on social media—starting rumors, posting embarrassing photos, or otherwise attempting to humiliate someone.

Warning Signs of Bullying

How can you tell if your child is being bullied at school? Many children choose not to open up about the problem, so don’t expect your child to tell you if it’s happening to them. Stay alert for the following signs and seek help if you notice them in your child:

  • Increased moodiness
  • Injuries they can’t explain
  • Social isolation
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Avoiding using the restroom at school
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Trouble sleeping
  • A sudden drop in academic performance
  • Frequent physical ailments (headaches or stomachaches)
  • Faking illness to avoid going to school

If you suspect your child is being bullied, bullying others, or being exposed to it, and they are already exhibiting signs of mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, we can help. The Child & Adolescent Psychiatrists at Amen Clinics have helped thousands of kids and teens overcome depression, anxiety, and other conditions. Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the organ it treats, we use brain SPECT imaging to assess brain health, and we use the least toxic, most effective personalized solutions to optimize brain function and minimize symptoms.

To find out more about how we can help, speak with a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.



  1. I just want to add that adults can be bullied also. I was one of them and hopefully you will address this issue in the future. Thank you!

    Comment by Vivian Johnson — October 16, 2019 @ 3:52 AM

  2. I have been bullied an I am 70 years old and every so often I get flash backs of friends that bullied me but I also was never good enough to fit in their group. Even to this day my friend if she is with a certain group an I can stand right next to her she will turn her back to you an start talking to her friend who use to be popular in school an neighbour’ hood will talk to her with her back to me like I don’t exist .

    Comment by Pat — November 13, 2019 @ 3:51 AM

  3. I am an adult that has been cyberstalked since 2011. I dont think there has been one person that hasnt Seemed to enjoy humiliating, mimicking,.. the list goes on and really isnt worth the effort to attempt to attempt.
    At times some people are to to do it more of a jestful lightheartened manner. But for the most part I find it hard to believe that so many adults would behave in this manner.
    Its really sad.


    I really dont know what to do? Trying to numb and not feel emotions and attempt to stay mostly in isolation since I could and still have not found help in the cyberworld.
    Which very much carries over into the real world.

    Comment by Erin Russell — November 13, 2019 @ 3:56 AM

  4. I had the triple play of abuse by family, coworkers, spiritual abuse by the Catholic Church. It becomes the norm when your childhood is filled with insecure attachments. Ignorance of the ACE test and of how it could help many people get therapy. I’m in a class action lawsuit against the Catholic Church. Self esteem is the most important quality that a person needs to thrive and feel purposeful. I’m sixty three years old in a wheelchair because of childhood trauma. MSA-C is an autoimmune disease caused by my brain being offline for such along time. Disassociation is a maladaptive coping skill to survive. Horrible experience and so many people don’t even know it’s not their fault.

    Comment by Marlene Bodner — November 13, 2019 @ 4:37 AM

  5. I experienced bullying in my childhood – name calling – not only from my younger brother but also from my mother. They both called me the same name. It was one thing to be ridiculed by a younger sibling and way another by one own mother. It was very painful. The bullying happened 60 years ago. It took me many years to overcome the wounds my mother inflected on me. Unfortunately I never could feel close to my mother even though she tried to get close in her old age. For my own sanity I had to forgive her and learned not to take her unkind treatment of me personally.

    Comment by Livia — November 13, 2019 @ 4:40 AM

  6. Great article. This needs to be shared everywhere. I have a 15 year old that has been bullied over the years and it’s horrible. I already see affects that are mentioned in this article. Bullying has to stop. I will be sharing this article. Repeatedly. Thank you!

    Comment by Traci — November 13, 2019 @ 5:37 AM

  7. School anti-bullying programs that I’ve seen focus on educating kids about how much damage the bullies are doing to the bullied. I suppose this is an attempt to create empathy in the bullies and concern in the bystanders. I’m very concerned, though, that they are ineffective and are further victimizing bullied children by giving them the depressing message that they are irreparably damaged compared with other kids. The truth is far different, and would be helpful for kids to know. While bullied kids are more likely to develop the treatable conditions of depression and anxiety, the outlook for bullies is much worse. Research I’ve read says that as adults they will have more difficulty keeping jobs, maintaining relationships and are more likely to be incarcerated. Over the past 45 years since I was a bullied child, I’ve definitely seen this to be true. I’ve been treated for depression, but have had a happy marriage for over 30 years, had a great career, and am sending my wonderful child off to college next Fall. Those who bullied me have been through divorces and even incarceration, and they ended up in low-paying jobs. Instead of programs that make bullied kids feel even more victimized, why not scare (or warn) the bullies about what kind of future they are heading for if they don’t find other ways of coping with life, and give bullied kids hope that the bullying they experience will eventually end, and that any residual problems are treatable?

    Comment by Karin Thatcher — November 13, 2019 @ 5:49 AM

  8. Thank you for this article. Do these brain issues follow a child that was verbally bullied into adulthood? This could answer some questions for my loved one.

    Comment by Jeremy Bazata — November 13, 2019 @ 6:13 AM

  9. My grandson was bullied in school at young age, he is now 22 and in IFS facility. He has a hard time with making friends, anger issues, making bad decisions. His step also bullied him. He has been involved with some drugs and theft. We cannot afford to get the help he needs now and some of the IFS units are a laugh. They are so understaffed and too many inmates. The system cannot help these kids.

    PLEASE, if you hear of your kids or someones kids being bullied when young, GET THEM help. Stop it before they kids are damaged beyond repair…I wish i had known more about it 15 years ago.

    Comment by barbara williams — November 13, 2019 @ 6:43 AM

  10. I was horribly bullied verbally/ socially when I was 13. It caused anorexia at the time and left me with anxiety issues that I’ve been dealing with since—I’m 65 now! Back in the day kids were just supposed to ‘ tough it out’—thank God now victims are able to find help.

    Comment by Deb N — November 13, 2019 @ 6:51 AM

  11. Dear Marlene,

    I am truly sorry that you have had to carry so much unwarranted hurt during your life and I sincerely hope that you have been able to overcome that hurt and find forgiveness for those who abused you. We must always keep in mind and in perspective that it is individuals who abuse their position and trust, not normally the institution itself. Christ founded the Catholic Faith and it is through that one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith that one can be saved. I have had quite a few friends over the years who blame the Church for something that a person did. I will pray for you.

    Comment by Paul Isley — November 13, 2019 @ 7:26 AM

  12. Paul,
    With all due respect, Christ did not found the catholic faith. Humans did. Jesus founded/reminded us of our Christianity. He came to expose and eradicate the false notion that our Heavenly Father’s love is conditional and/or not easily accessible. The truth is we don’t need a priest, guardian angel, saint or anyone else to act as a ”go-between.” He came as a human to upend the legalistic attitudes and teachings of the religious leaders and to remind us that we ALL have direct and equal access to God, and there is nothing we need to do to earn that love… We only need to have a heart that is willing to receive and reflect His love. His message: It’s RELATIONSHIP, not religion.
    Marlene, your pain is real. I’m so sorry. I do agree with Paul that it was caused by imperfect human beings. I will also pray for you, and hope that you will also continue your own conversations with God. He loves you so very much and nothing is too big for Him. Lean on Him, and He will help ease your burden. We live in an imperfect world, but thankfully we also have a Perfect Guide in Jesus. And take your time, He’s extremely patient. 🙂

    Comment by Faith — November 13, 2019 @ 9:46 AM

  13. Pat, I think you need to ask yourself if she a true friend that brings joy to your life. If not, maybe consider whether she is good for you and your spirit and if not, it is never too late to look for companionship elsewhere. Another strategy might me to ask her if she intended to hurt you when she turned her back on you and then state ‘because you did’. If she is made aware of how she is hurting you maybe she will stop. If not, you have to decide whether you are worthy
    of better treatment. I think we all deserve better than that.

    Comment by Kelly — November 13, 2019 @ 3:29 PM

  14. Yes, please address the impact of bullying on an adult brain. Thank you!

    Comment by Pamela Turner — November 13, 2019 @ 9:42 PM

  15. Here is another article for your review: https://amenclinics.com/blog/bullying-it-can-happen-at-work-too/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — November 14, 2019 @ 8:09 AM

  16. I’ve been a bully and have been bullied. I am today a loser in life. However I have trusted that Christ died for my sins, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day. This is all I have and Christ is all I need. I do isolate and do avoid people whenever I can. I guess it is a safety mechanism that I do this. I am ashamed of my bullying behavior.

    Comment by Brian K Warner — November 14, 2019 @ 8:24 AM

  17. I was bullied at work. After working with the same company for years. When I reported it to management I was told they did not listen to “tittle tattle “. One of the bullies was the owner’s daughter so what chance did I have? She has since become a psychologist. God help her patients!

    Comment by Mary Coupar — November 15, 2019 @ 7:39 AM

  18. there was a bully in my neighborhood who’d harass me every day walking home from school. I’d stay on the other side of the street, and hope he wouldn’t come across. One day I decided to make an ice ball out the snow. He came over to my side of the street and I pummeled him with it right in the face. He never bothered me again. He went home crying and saying how he was going to tell his mom. He never bothered me again

    Comment by Carol Gibson — November 15, 2019 @ 3:57 PM

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