What You Need to Know About Mental Health & Bullying Awareness

The school year is in full swing with curriculum, homework, and special events. In the midst of focusing on academics and sporting events, a major component that should not be overlooked is student’s mental health.  Even though there is a growing awareness of mental health, there is still ignorance and misunderstanding surrounding mental health and social factors that can affect it. One of the many social factors that can affect a student’s mental health is bullying.

Bullying is considered repeated aggressive behavior with intent to harm another person which involves a power imbalance (Hase, Goldberg, Smith, Stuck & Campain, 2015). For youth, this traditional form of bullying is commonly displayed in the school setting. However, with the booming digital world, bullying is not only limited to the school setting but has expanded to the cyberworld. Cyberbullying is defined as bullying using electronic venues (Hase et al., 2015) and has made bullying easier as by using digital sources such as social media, e-mail, websites, and text messaging, makes it easier to intentionally harm others even if they would not normally do so in a traditional setting.

For young people, bullying is a major health problem for all those involved. Mental health problems may be associated with deficits in their social, academic, and physical achievements (Murshid, 2017). They are at a higher risk of mental health problems during childhood (Landstedt & Persson, 2014) such as:

  • Psychosomatic symptoms
  • Depression
  • Attempted or actual suicide

Even though bullying commonly occurs during childhood, the impact can last well into adulthood. Victims of childhood bullying and youth who bullied have a higher risk of developing mental health problems later in life (Murshid, 2017). Mental health functioning should be assessed as early as possible and over time for youth involved in bullying as early intervention is necessary to minimize mental health issues later in life.

Currently mental health education is not a mandatory aspect of all schools, however teachers and administrators can work to promote awareness with their students. Mental health and bullying awareness are important issues for all educators as they are often the first line of defense for their students at school. As the world continued to gain a better understanding of mental health and social factors that can affect it such as bullying, teachers and students should be provided with ways to recognize signs of bullying and mental health problems, and there should be opportunities around the awareness and management of these signs.

References

Murshid, N. (2017). Bullying victimization and mental health outcomes of adolescents in Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Children and Youth Services Review76, 163-169. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2017.03.003

Landstedt, E., & Persson, S. (2014). Bullying, cyberbullying, and mental health in young people. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health42(4), 393-399. doi: 10.1177/1403494814525004

Hase, C., Goldberg, S., Smith, D., Stuck, A., & Campain, J. (2015). Impacts of traditional bullying and cyberbullying on the mental health of middle school and high school students. Psychology in The Schools52(6), 607-617. doi: 10.1002/pits.21841

Cyberbullying and Special Needs Children

By Tranika Jefferson

We live in a world, in which nearly everything is digital. This makes life easier. However, it also causes problems. Previously, bullying had been confined to the school playground, bus, or outside in the neighborhood; however, this deadly phenomenon has filtered its way into the digital world and is known as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is described as when someone intentionally uses digital media to threaten, harass, or intimidate someone (Heiman, Olenik-Shemesh & Eden, 2014). This can be done via the internet (e.g., social media, blog post, chat group, etc.), telephone (to include calls and text messages), or videos. Social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have created more opportunities for cyberbullying to potentially occur.

No longer restricted to school environments or direct physical contact, bullying can now expand from one continent to the other without the individuals involved even personally knowing each other. This allows 24/7 access for individuals to be victims of cyberbullying. No child is exempt from the destruction of cyberbullying and online harassment. Studies have found that children with special needs such as learning disorders, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and Autism Spectrum disorders are more likely to be bullied than their peers (Kowaloski & Fedina, 2011). A possible explanation for this is that children may not fully understand different disabilities. When someone is viewed as “socially awkward,” they are more likely to encounter cyberbullying since they are an “easy” target. Cyberbullying makes it that much easier for children to harm and alter the learning path of those with special needs by threatening, harassing, or intimidating them.

The digital world can help improve the social cognitive skills of children with special needs as well as “offer young people a setting for social support, intimacy and the development of autonomy through self-expression and identify exploration (Good & Fang, 2015).” However, it can also be a harmful place due to cyberbullying. Efforts must be made to address cyberbullying in the general population as well as with children with special needs. Parents, educators, and clinicians are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of these children while still teaching them skills on effectively dealing with virtual harassment or intimidation.

If children with special needs can be taught to deal with the adverse situations imposed upon them virtually, then they can continue to expand their own social skills and communication. In addition, they can increase their independence with the broad utilization that the virtual world offers. This, in turn, may improve their self-confidence, self-concept, and social life.

References

Good, B., & Fang, L. (2015). Promoting Smart and Safe Internet Use Among Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Their Parents. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43(2), 179-188. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10615-015-0519-4

Heiman, T., Olenik-Shemesh, D., & Eden, S. (2014). Cyberbullying involvement among students with ADHD: relation to loneliness, self-efficacy and social support. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 30(1), 15-29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2014.943562

Kowalski, R., & Fedina, C. (2011). Cyber bullying in ADHD and Asperger Syndrome Populations. Research In Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(3), 1201-1208. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2011.01.007