Thursday, 5 December 2013

Student Nurse Perspective: The social price of bullying.

After writing about the emotional impact that bullying had on my life I got some really nice feedback. I thought that maybe I had actually laid some ghosts back to rest after that but unfortunately my brain kept on noticing all these interesting articles on bullying and what potential and actual social impact it has. There was one particular article in The Conversation that got my attention. It included a rather long and time consuming study following 1420 kids into adulthood. What it largely said was that being bullied at school was a major indicator in decreased quality of aspects of life. With general poorer outcomes of physical and psychological health for victims and bullies. But the biggest difference was for kids who were "bully-victims". Bully-victims were at even higher risk of suffering from diabetes, asthma, anxiety, depression and more likely to pick up smoking. So in other words bullying can potentially destroy someone's life. And all for what some people seem to think is a normal part of childhood. What this study also points out, which had been said in previous studies, that pure bullies are not some emotionally scarred individuals from broken backgrounds but. They have better social understanding, can read emotional situations better and knowledge of how to manipulate others for their own purposes. They also tend to be the paradoxically both the most popular and the most hated kids in school, as everyone wants to be with them but they don't particularly like them. But in adulthood they are also at an increased risk of being on the wrong side of the law. But the bully-victims on the other hand do tend to be more socially awkward with pre-existing emotional and behavioral problems and from dysfunctional family background.
Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage but throws a long shadow over affected people’s lives.
The biggest impact generally though was that bullying affected negatively on all groups. As you can see from the chart below the only group unaffected were the ones who had not been involved in bullying. But in a separate chart in the same study they also show how big an impact long term bullying has as opposed to  short term bullying, with the biggest difference being in future social behaviour. Bullies, bully-victims and chronic victims had difficulties in present and future educational settings, meaning that they will most likely have left before attaining any qualifications. But all three groups had problems in retaining jobs. Now I'd like to make this clear and say that no this does not happen to every one who has bullied or been bullied. But that does not mean that we can just sit back, do nothing and yes calmly say "Well kids will be kids." Just to hope that they'll be fine and remain unaffected later in life. This is a social issue that everyone has to help with and as this research suggests we shouldn't only focus on the victims, but we should also help bullies. Which means that some parents have to come to terms with that they're children are bullies. Not only come to terms with it, but to deal with it.

There was a period not that long ago when I was really set up in setting up a support/educational group for victims of bullying and their close ones. Unfortunately I ran out of steam before that ever happened, but I did do an awful lot of research while I had this fire in my belly. I read books and papers, even phoned up some organizations in the capital. I had collected quite a lot of info, which I had dumped into what was at the time the only anti-bullying site in Icelandic at the time but which is now lost in the etherworld(now if anyone could find it I'd be much obliged). I still got a lot of it somewhere on paper. I think... I hope anyway. The best thing though since turning into adulthood and with the advances of the internet and going to University now, I've been able to hunt down more actual university papers on the effects of bullying. Like the ones I linked earlier.

The author that seemed to have done the biggest and best research was a Swede who did most of his work in Norway named Dan Olweus. He wrote a seminal book called Bullying at School. Through his research in Norway in how to combat bullying at school, he established the phenomenally successful "Bullying Prevention Programme". Which in turn has developed into "Violence Prevention Works", that website does provide some excellent resources for everyone to use.  He provides probably the best definition of bullying that I know of, and sweet Jebus I've heard people try to shoehorn so many aspects into bullying. Essentially you will find people who dislike some certain behaviours will try and class those as bullying.
Bullying is systematic abuse of power and refers to repeated aggression against another person that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power.
There have been a few meta-analysis done regarding the effectiveness of bullying prevention programmes. The most comprehensive I came across was done for the Journal of Experimental Criminology. But essentially what they did find was that the on average Bullying Prevention Programmes decreased incidents of bullying by up to 23%. Not the world, but it's a start. The most effective ones were it the ones that had the most intense programmes, including those that had formal parenting meetings, increased break-time supervision and disciplinary methods(Just to make it clear disciplinary here is not in the form of physical or mental aggression, like keel-hauling, but rather loss of privileges and the like). The least effective ones, in fact the ones that lead to an increase of bullying were the peer support groups. It would appear that the Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme is the best there is. Along with that there are some excellent institutions out there that help like Red Balloon this organization provide a safe haven for kids who've been chronically bullied. What they offer is a sort of intensive care with full time education in order to assist kids, with the aim that they'll be able to return to mainstream education. According to them "At least half of the students we take have attempted or seriously considered suicide.". They also oversaw the publication of Rising Above Bullying, one the most inspirational books I've read in recent years. Currently there are only 5 Red Balloon centres in the UK, it would be great to see that number increase along with a nationwide roll-out of Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme.

What a lot of people don't realise is how big an impact bullying has. The said thing is that sometimes what it takes for people to be aware of it is somebody committing suicide. With as high as 44% of suicide committed by 10-14 year old being due to persistent bullying, and for every actual suicide there are as many as 100 suicide attempts. And all for "a harmless rite of passage". This of course is not just confined to school bullying, this can also be related to cyber-bullying and workplace bullying. Though work-bullying is not the focus here, it is still good to mention that even adults still behave in this way, if just a bit more subtly than kids in school.

*Added 19/04/14*

American Journal of Psychiatry did a study that followed people over a 50 year period.  The idea was to find out of course the long term problems that constant bullying has on people's mental and social health. The population of the cohort was 7771, questionnaires were sent on a regular basis and the subjects were met at 23 years of age and 50 years. The results were quite striking:
Participants who were bullied in childhood had increased levels of psychological distress at ages 23 and 50. Victims of frequent bullying had higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidality than their nonvictimized peers.
Essentially childhood bullying is not something that is just confined to childhood. Being bullied on a frequent basis has very serious long term effects, and not just on the individual who has been bullied. The effect will be felt by the parents, future partners, children, friends, the local health and social care network and so on and so forth.

A similar study had been done in Finland which was published in 2009. Interestingly this study showed that boys who bullied were in greater need of psychiatric assistance for depression and anxiety as they grew older but girls who were bullied were in greater need psychiatric hospital assistance.

The focus shouldn't only be on the bullying victim, the bully very often ends up being a victim as time passes. We need to exterminate this idea that bullying is normal part of childhood and that we should just let it run it's course. Because the course is lifelong, for some that life will be shorter because of bullying. This is a social problem that affects all of us one way or the other whether we like to admit to it or not. And it's a problem that everyone should help to tackle. The local authorities, to the teachers and parents.
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