How does bullying affect our health?

February 21, 2020

February 26, 2020, marks the 13th anniversary of Pink Shirt Day. The anti-bullying awareness day began in 2007, when two Nova Scotia grade 12 students, David Shepherd and Travis Price, wore pink shirts in support of a younger student who was bullied for wearing the colour.

Since that fateful year, the movement has raised funds for youth anti-bullying initiatives across Canada. In 2019 alone, the organization helped support programs impacting almost 60,000 children and young people. There are many ways to support Pink Shirt Day, from sporting the colour to creating a fundraiser.

Bullying impacts everyone from teenagers and kids to adults in the workplace, and has adverse effects on health. Vancouver psychiatrist, Dr Matthew Chow, says that the impact bullying has on health is “tremendously negative”.

“From stress to anxiety and depression, weight gain to high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart attacks— bullying has negative mental and physical effects. Bullying is a serious problem that deserves a serious response.”

Bullying in childhood

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research say that 47% of parents and guardians report having a child who is a victim of bullying. It can be difficult to know what the best course of action is, but Dr Chow suggests being open with your children.

“Show them you care. Tell them that it is okay to talk about bullying. Schools are more attuned to bullying than ever— letting your child’s teacher know is a reasonable step (if bullying is happening at school), as is approaching a school counsellor or administrator. Parents are often reluctant to approach the parents of bullies, but sometimes that can be helpful, especially if parents are not aware of their children’s bullying behaviour.”

Workplace bullying

It’s an unfortunate reality that bullying is not an experience exclusive to childhood. Many adults experience bullying behaviour in the workplace, which can affect their mental and physical health. Dr Chow emphasized the laws and regulations in place here in BC to protect workers.

“Bullying in the workplace can lead to serious mental and physical consequences. Treat it like the serious hazard that it is -- don’t stay silent and don’t be ashamed to tell someone. You and your health deserve to have bullying addressed.”

Dr Chow notes that many people tell their doctor about the health problems they are experiencing as a result of bullying such as stress, anxiety, depression, and even physical problems like headaches, digestion issues, and weight changes — rather than talking about bullying itself.

“If you are being bullied, don’t be afraid to tell someone like your doctor. Your doctor can recommend treatment to help with the symptoms of being bullied, and in some cases may even be able to advocate for you, by sharing how your health is being negatively impacted.”

Telling someone is one of the first steps to acknowledging that bullying is a problem. It can lead to positive action and reversing the impacts on your health. Don’t stop with your doctor though. Telling others that you are being bullied, whether at your workplace, your home, or elsewhere, is important to maintain your health.

When to get help

If things escalate and there’s a fear of bodily harm, its time to call authorities. HealthlinkBC and 811 are here to help.

Dr Chow also noted that bullying is “not just the business of bullies and the bullied.” We can all help by calling out bullying when we see it, supporting victims of bullying, and holding public figures to account. 

“We can all contribute to a better society free from bullying by holding each other responsible for what we say, what we do, and how we make each other feel.” 

Pink Shirt Day