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.

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  1. Vivian Johnson says:

    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!


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