mother and daughter talkingNearly half (44%) of young people who were bullied at school say it impacted on their mental health and that they experienced issues such as anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, according to a new survey.

Additionally, 57% of the 16-25-year-olds surveyed who said they were bullied reported that this changed their behaviour and the way they felt, such as feeling angry or withdrawn, and 43% said they experienced body image anxieties. A third (34%) avoided school or college as a way of coping with bullying.

The findings were released by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, hosted by National Children’s Bureau, with support from YoungMinds to mark Anti-Bullying Week (16-20 November) in partnership with Barclays. 

Many of the young people polled said the effects of bullying have continued to cast a shadow over their lives after leaving school. Nearly half (46%) said that being bullied has had a long-lasting effect on their self-esteem and confidence since leaving school and almost 37% said it had had a negative effect on their ability to form personal relationships.

While 40% of those young people who were bullied said access to a supportive teacher trained in dealing with bullying would have made a difference, 70% of the 170 teachers surveyed said there was inadequate support for schools working with children with mental health issues and more than half would value better training. Additionally, 57% of teachers said in-school counsellors would help schools better support these vulnerable children.

In a separate survey conducted with the Royal College of General Practitioners, 92% of the 126 family doctors surveyed said they have had no formal training, resources or information to help them support children and young people with symptoms that relate to bullying. They confirmed that bullying has long-lasting effects with 92% of GPs having seen adults with symptoms relating to childhood bullying.

Lauren Seager-Smith, national coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, said: “Bullying is a public health issue. We all need to play our part to stop bullying wherever and whenever it happens  – whether it’s in school, the community or online – but it’s vital that we also invest in support for children and families impacted by bullying. We would like to see more training for teachers and health professionals, in school counselling, and much needed funds for child and adolescent mental health services.”

Sarah Brennan, CEO of YoungMinds, added: “We tend to think of bullying as a series of throwaway incidents in a child's life but this survey shows how devastating and life-changing the experience of bullying can be. If it isn't dealt with effectively it can lead to years of pain and suffering that go on long into adulthood. We need to skill up teachers, parents and GPs to be able to respond to victims in ways that make them feel listened to, taken seriously and cared for. With the advent of social media bullying doesn't stop when school ends it continues 24 hours a day, so we need to fully support young people both on and offline to deal with the consequences and to enable them to recover and flourish.”

Dr Liz England, clinical champion for mental health for the Royal College of GPs, said: "Bullying – and increasingly cyber-bullying – can lead to very serious mental health problems in our young patients, which are often not talked about and go unnoticed.

“GPs have a very difficult job in identifying mental health issues in young patients as they are often not the primary reason someone has for visiting their GP, and because of the stigma that unfortunately exists around discussing mental health problems.

“It is important that our young patients know that GPs are highly trained to deal with physical and mental health problems – and to have sensitive, non-judgemental conversations with patients about any health issue.”