There’s no way this issue can or should be sugar-coated: bullying is damaging to health. Not only mental health, but physical and social health, the integration of which make either a healthy, well-adjusted individual or someone who suffers. Those who are not bullied are quick to use such tired platitudes as “sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you”, or “remember to use your words.” This is about as useful and real as telling kids Santa Claus is going to rescue them the minute someone pushes them around. Words are used in many cases with the express intention of harming by humiliation and degradation. They work quite well in ways only the recipient can tell.
Adults are as bad as schoolyard punks at this sick game. A parent may constantly favor one child over another in such obvious ways it arouses jealousy and sibling rivalry beyond any norm. A teacher often centers out one student who seems different—possibly due to poverty, race, learning disabilities or physical characteristics. Obese children seem to get this more than any others because there is a built-in dislike among many in our society for those who are considered less than svelte. Females take the brunt of this and other slams against their appearance, being called derogatory names and often even physically assaulted if they are deemed not drop-dead gorgeous. Sometimes even sexual abuse (worst of all in gym classes and locker rooms) is perpetrated against these students. It’s rare that anyone including teachers will defend the victim. The recipients of such abuse are told to “lighten up, it’s only a joke”, and made to believe it’s their own fault for being ugly, fat, or whatever moniker is given to them.
At some point in time a bullied child or teen may be judged as depressed (any wonder why?) and guess what the solution is: drugs. While kids are lectured constantly not to use recreational drugs, they are filled with prescription pharmaceuticals from an early age to control hyperactivity, learning disabilities, acne, and often depression. Despite warnings on ads for these drugs about the possible side effects of suicidal thoughts and the fact they are not meant for young patients they are continually prescribed. Next thing you know some kid is blowing his brains out following taking down a group of other students after smuggling a gun into school. Often people will say “He/she was a quiet kid, never caused any trouble before.” Did anyone realize, however, as happens in most such incidents, the shooter had been bullied for years and no one—not school staff, nor doctors, sometimes not even parents--acted to remedy the situation. It’s not a surprise that when you corner someone and harass them often enough, they will snap, with or without medication to spur them on.
Most often, though, the end resulting from such torment is that the victim (and there is no other word adequate to describe someone who is bullied) has a level of self-esteem bordering on zero. It can lead to failure in relationships, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, even suicide (with or without turning on those responsible for the abuse). Some people who have grown up being bullied simply adapt to it, hide their feelings and withdraw as much as they can from the world. What a waste; many of these children could potentially have blossomed into something wonderful that no one will ever know. If only someone had taken the time and courage to help them stand up against the abuse.
It may not be too late for someone you know; if you are aware of bullying in your school, your family, or elsewhere, you can act against it. Siding with the bullied person won’t make you a target, as most will assume. It will, however, make the cowardly perpetrator and his/her cohorts usually back down. It’s worth it and may even save a life, or many lives.