By Jim Irion
With or without a mental health condition, bullying can or has likely already had a negative impact on your life. I know by personal experience, but not only from high school. This entirely avoidable behavior has been tolerated for so long it has even evolved with the emergence of social media. How can such an accepted social norm be challenged? The solutions are as simple as making the right choices. Join me as one voice to advocate for anti-bullying by sharing my insight. Together, we can finally change this toxic trend into a positive.
Bullying can be defined as one or more intentional attempts to cause unnecessary emotional distress and/or physical harm. Therefore, the common perception that it only occurs amongst younger age groups, in public and private schools, is incorrect. Age does not exclude you from being bullied. In fact, while advocating for mental health, I was targeted as recently as 2018 by someone older than me. Cyber-bullying has also emerged through social media well after I graduated high school. Why is going out of your way to be mean to others still tolerated or even socially acceptable? To address this issue, the best approach is to focus on its origins.
As early as fourth grade at age ten, I quickly realized how bullying made me feel: anxious, depressed, paranoid, or that I did not belong. What I could not know then was this distress actually triggered some of my mental health symptoms. Two of which are easy to identify from the words I chose. Harassment and teasing continued through adolescent age in High School. Without an effective deterrent to stop this trend, negative peer pressure allowed it to happen more often. Kids will be kids was also a common parent response clearly ignoring the mistreatment. Harsh social isolation I endured still affects me to this day.
Why are bullying and peer pressure so disruptive at a young age? Pre-teens and teens have not learned effective coping skills yet to deal with such aggressively upsetting behavior. They are also concentrated in school settings pursuing a necessary education for up to twelve key formative years. As a result, anxiety and depression develop and can quickly spiral out of control leading to suicide. Not only could such long-term psychological effects be avoided, the benefits will swiftly spread throughout society itself in a matter of years.
With a sustained and effective effort to eliminate bullying in schools, there will be a less confrontational environment for school shootings, peer pressure, and suicides plus fewer opportunities for depression and anxiety symptoms to occur. Education will improve and without excessive funding needed. The most important benefit of all will be greater intolerance of unnecessary hostility, but not just towards any single group of people. With uncompromising fairness, any form of social stigma fueled by ignorance and hatred should not be acceptable. Now, more than ever, we need this solution to be taken seriously.
Cyber-bullying continues to target an untold number of youths with no signs of stopping. Social media is used to viciously attack people and with no regard for innocence or permanent damage to their reputation. In the US, racism is used so often as a tool for political and economic oppression that actual racism is overlooked. In fact, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, and stigma proven harmful during the Civil Rights Era are still widely used. Toxic political intolerance regularly pits friends, family, and complete strangers against one another. These intentionally divisive trends have even been enough to cripple effective government.
Incredibly, all of this comes from choosing to be deliberately hurtful to others. It is disturbing to believe so much negativity is encouraged. Or for as many a year as many of you may remember. Let alone from as high up as political elitists who, as adults themselves, should be setting far better examples. However, challenging such an accepted social norm is not impossible. The change can easily start within each of us right now. All we need to do is make the right choices. Choose not to tolerate, participate in, or encourage any form of nasty behavior.
We all have our days. Not enough sleep, feeling over-stressed, strained finances, raising kids, physical and mental health issues, for a start. Several years after graduation, I bumped into a guy who pushed me around during Junior High. He explained there had been problems at home and expressed remorse for his behavior. I apologized for how I acted and genuinely forgave him. This made me realize there may not only be tragedies behind at least some bullying, but to not condemn anyone who could be struggling and just lashing out. In the end, we are all vulnerable to the same degrading effects of misguided hate, abuse, and ignorance.
Although peer pressure can involve bullying behavior, it is not as intense outside of younger age groups. Attempting to poison a classmate with a known substance they are seriously allergic to, irrationally comparing a person to Adolf Hitler because you refuse to tolerate their contrasting political views, making fun of people simply for looking or dressing, being different or less fortunate than you. Choosing to engage in actions like these can easily cause lasting emotional harm regardless of mental health status. Please, make the right choice. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
With or without a mental health condition, bullying can or has likely already had a negative impact on your life. If this toxic behavior is eliminated from schools, and tolerated a lot less in our society, a whole host of real world benefits will emerge within a matter of years. A decrease in suicide rates, fewer school shootings, improved education, fewer opportunities for anxiety and depression symptoms to develop, and more. The sooner we take for granted that it matters how people are treated, the sooner mental health can improve for millions of people in just a single lifetime.