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  BULLYING: Anxiety, Depression & Helping Kids

Anxiety, Depression and Helping Kids

By Dawn Zivanovich, MSW, RSW  (2012)

Bullying. This is a huge topic and cannot be covered in one article. Teasing, picking on, harassing, pushing, shoving, name-calling -- all these behaviours fall under the umbrella of bullying. Bullies can be extremely intimidating. In fact, sometimes, they can be downright terrifying and they can make other people miserable, so much so, that with repeated bullying, victims can begin to suffer lower confidence and self-esteem, and their academic performance or even their physical health can be affected.

I have clients who too readily recall the names they were called in grade school. They recall the degradation and humiliation they felt. At times, the shame and embarrassment, and the feeling that there is something wrong with them, appears to follow them into their adult lives. Witnessing bullying can be just as traumatic. Some siblings try to protect their younger brothers or sisters by standing up for them or taking them away from harmful situations.

As we know, children, teens and adults can become afflicted with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The most severe consequence is suicide which, unfortunately, has been an all too real consequence in some cases of extreme bullying.

Many children, and even adults, don’t know how to deal with bullies, and so behave submissively which often reinforces the bully's behavior. Often children are afraid to tell their parents or teachers that they are being bullied either by another child or, at times, by a group of kids. The parent may believe that the child should learn to stand up for himself and choose not to intervene. Children may be scared of the repercussions of "telling", and therefore, keep the bullying a secret.

Whatever the case, as therapists, we need to look for the signs that a child may be the victim of bullying. Sometimes symptoms emerge as physical ailments, declining school grades, or worry and anxiety. Or a child may begin to become depressed, withdrawn and show signs of sadness, including crying, trouble sleeping or nightmares.

In recent years, bullying has emerged in a new form, via instant messaging and text messaging. Cyber bullying has changed the culture of bullying to a certain extent and the number of people that report being bullied has increased as a result. It has another dimension in that the bullying can be anonymous which means you do not know who to be on the look-out for.

In general, being bullied usually leaves children feeling helpless, powerless, fearful, anxious and sometimes angry. Although upsetting, it is important to deal with bullying as quickly as possible. Therapists need to offer helpful quick solutions such as “blocking" an e-mail address or walking away from a situation and finding help from a teacher or an adult. It is important for the adults to address the bullying in a firm and definitive manner.

Counselling and therapy can be helpful in order to offer support and allow the child (and parents) to find resources and coping strategies for dealing with the effects of bullying. The use of imagination and visualization strategies can be used to provide positive and strong resources. Victims of bullying can benefit from opportunities to express themselves in a safe, creative way such as through drawing.  As well, they can benefit from psycho-education about bullies and how to cope with bullying. 

Therapy can help kids to realize that about 25% of kids experience bullying so they know they are not alone. They can be educated that bullies do this for a variety of reasons including to feel tough or powerful, to look popular, because they are jealous or because they are being bullied themselves.

Children can be taught strategies for dealing with the stress and negative feelings of bullying by learning that it is not their fault. No matter what someone says or does, they should not be ashamed of who they are or what they feel. Counsellors can help to affirm their strengths, resilience and resourcefulness in dealing with the bullying. Children can learn strategies that help to relieve stress such as exercise, positive self-talk, muscle relaxation and breathing exercises.

Finally, within family therapy, parents can be helped to encourage positive social behaviours by modeling non-aggressive problem-solving strategies, such as resolving conflicts through discussion. They can also talk to their children about bullying, and learn to show their support without judgment, criticism or blame.

For information about Dawn and her work visit her profile at www.traumaline1.com

or e-mail her directly at