Bullies and brain health: How Iowa MHDS can help

Whether on the school bus, online or even in the workplace, bullies have been around for years. Their taunting tactics are nothing new, and their ability to cause hurt feelings, trigger anxiety or negatively impact brain health (mental health) can leave a person wondering how to end the targeted treatment for good.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, established in 2006 by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. What started as an awareness week has grown into a monthlong, nationwide effort on the part of schools, organizations, parents and youth to call out the consequences of bullying and how each individual can make a difference when it comes to spreading kindness.

The Iowa Youth Survey, (IYS) given to Iowa students in sixth, eighth, and 11th grades every two years, asks a variety of questions related to bullying in school and online. In the 2021 survey, “More than half of sixth and eighth graders reported they had been called names, made fun of, or teased in a hurtful way at least once within the past 30 days. For each grade, the percentage of students reporting they had been called names, made fun of, or teased in a hurtful way (at least once in the past 30 days) was higher than the percentages in the 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018 IYS.”

What’s more, ongoing bullying can lead to absenteeism. Approximately one in ten students (10% for sixth grade; nine percent for eighth and 11th grades) reported that they have stayed home from school because they felt unsafe going to or being at school in the past 30 days.

The new kid in town: Cyberbullying

The rise in popularity of social media in recent years has given bullies 24/7 access to those they want to target. DoSomething.org, a youth activism website, cites cyberbullying facts gathered in 2019 from a variety of youth-related studies and surveys.

  1. About 37% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have been bullied online; 30% have had it happen more than once.
  2. Girls are more likely than boys to be both victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying; 15% of teen girls have been the target of at least four different kinds of abusive online behaviors, compared with 6% of boys.
  3. About half of LGBTQ+ students experience online harassment — a rate higher than average.
  4. Instagram is the social media site where most young people report experiencing cyberbullying, with 42% of those surveyed experiencing harassment on the platform.

StopBullying.gov, a federal website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, gets straight to the point when it comes to tackling this tough subject. They offer tips parents and caretakers can utilize for talking to a child about being bullied and tools kids can use when they go to an adult with bullying concerns. One key theme is offering support and a listening ear to those who have been targeted.

Prolonged interaction with a bully, whether at school, online or otherwise, can have detrimental effects on the victim. StopBullying.gov states, “Research indicates that persistent bullying can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior.”  

Iowa MHDS Regions is here to help

If you, your child or another person in your life is experiencing negative brain health as a result of bullying, Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) is a partner in connecting Iowans of all ages with professionals who can help. Iowa MHDS Regions work with care providers across the state to ensure you’re not alone when it comes to addressing concerns with brain health, personal well-being and more. A range of affordable, well-organized and high-quality health services are available for you, wherever and whenever you need them.

With 14 regions around the state, locating a brain health expert is just a call or click away: visit IowaMHDSRegions.org or call the Your Life Iowa line at 855-581-8111.