by Traci Raley
Previously I posted about a study that was conducted on incoming science teachers and their views on bullying. Some of the teachers stated that they believe bullying is a normal part of childhood, that it cannot be stopped, and that it teaches kids coping skills. I find this both surprising and upsetting. Anyone who feels this way is most likely unaware of the many health problems that can plague kids who are the victims of bullying.
The statements made by the incoming teachers in this study prompted me to do more research, and I compiled a list of some the health, medical, and related problems that bullying can cause. This information comes from the National Academies Press.
1. Somatic Problems and Social Pain
Somatic problems are physical ailments that have no obvious medical cause. They are usually triggered by stressful or emotional situations. Common somatic problems that victims of bullying sometimes experience include sleep disorders, headaches, GI problems, chronic pain and palpitations.
Social pain refers to the feelings that victims get after peer rejection and ostracism. It activates similar areas of the brain that respond to physical pain and can cause somatic symptoms.
Problems Chronic bullying can cause chronic stress. Stress activates the stress response system at the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The function of the HPA is to promote adaptation and survival, but chronic elevation of the HPA can alter normal hormone levels. When the HPA is under chronic stress, it can lower the body’s cortisol levels. This is problematic because cortisol is important for the regulation of blood sugar, metabolism, and the immune system. When chronic bullying continually activates the HPA, it can also disrupt circadian rhythms, which are necessary for regulating sleep patterns. This can lead to problems falling asleep at night and waking up in the morning.
3. Internalization and Externalization
Internalization is typically more common in girls who are victims of chronic bullying. It includes anxiety, depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, fear, and withdrawal. It can lead to self-harming and suicide.
Externalization is typically more common in boys who are victims of chronic bullying. It includes anger, aggression, and conduct problems, and can lead to risky behaviors such as violence, alcohol, and drug abuse.
4. Poor Academic Performance
Chronic stress from bullying can have a negative effect on memory and learning capacity. This can in turn lead to lower grades and lower standardized test scores. Somatic problems can lead to increased absenteeism as well, which also affects academic performance. Most kids have enough to worry about in school without having to worry about the health problems associated with bullying. Hopefully, teacher training courses on bullying can also instruct teachers on how to recognize and address these problems, if they aren’t already doing so.