How Teen Bullying Affects Short-Term and Long-Term Mental Health


When teens are bullied by their peers, the consequences for both perpetrators and targets can be severe. There are also negative consequences for people who observe the bullying. Witnesses who do not partake in it may have feelings of guilt and helplessness, especially if they make no attempt to stop the bullying.

Short-Term Effects of Teen Bullying

Bullying can cause mental illness. Mental illness is a broad term that refers to conditions that create disorder in a person’s mood, thought processes and behavior.1 Examples include anxiety disorders, eating disorders and depression. Any of these disorders can be brought on rapidly by bullying.

When the bullying does not take place over a prolonged period, negative consequences tend to be short-lived. This is particularly true when teens receive appropriate counseling and support once the bullying is acknowledged.

Numerous research projects have concluded that bullying can cause serious mental health issues in teens. One study of 16,410 secondary school pupils showed that people involved in bullying were more likely to suffer from depression and to have suicidal thoughts.2

Other research shows that those involved in bullying are more likely to develop psychosomatic symptoms. These are physical symptoms that have no physical cause. They include insomnia, headaches, stomach aches and non-specific feelings of being unwell.

Teen bullying is also associated with low self-esteem, which impacts other areas of an individual’s life. Academic performance can be seriously degraded through bullying, leading to intense feelings of helplessness and loneliness.

Teen bullying victims can become isolated and withdrawn, even from people who try to encourage and support them. They may be reluctant to take part in sports and other group activities. This can affect both mental and physical development.

Long-Term Effects of Teen Bullying

Teen Bullying

Some people may be more profoundly affected by bullying than others. Any of the short-term effects can mutate into long-term effects, especially if the bullying takes place persistently. As with most types of illness, the more established the illness becomes, the harder it is to treat. In some cases, the negative effects of bullying during teenage years can persist through a person’s entire lifetime. People involved in bullying may even develop mental health problems many years after the bullying has taken place.

Bullies and their targets may struggle to develop and maintain interpersonal relationships. Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem affects educational achievements and income potential. One research project showed that targets of bullying earned less at age 50 than their non-bullied peers.3

Dealing with Teen Bullying

Many teens who are victims of bullying are reluctant to make parents, teachers or other responsible adults aware of the problem. They may fear that the bullying will intensify if they draw attention to it.

Increasing awareness of the extent of the problem means that more educational institutions are proactive in detecting and addressing bullying. Parents need to talk to their teens about bullying. Letting their children know that they are valued and loved can help prevent bullying or offset its negative impact.

If your child has been bullied and is in need of counseling, contact The Light Program to discuss treatment options.