A new study published in the December 2009 issue of School Psychology Quarterly shows that those who witness the bullying of others are also at harmed psychologically by the event.
It should come as little surprise, since most people understand that there are psychological consequences for children who witness their parents or other adults arguing or fighting. But, this is one of the first studies to show evidence of the damage it causes.
Researchers asked over 2002 mostly white children aged 12-16 about how much they’d been a bully, been bullied or witnessed a bullying event over the last school term. 63% said they’d seen bullying happening, 20% admitted to bullying someone, and 34% reported being bullied themselves.
Then the students were asked questions about their mental health, their use of cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs. The results were somewhat surprising. It showed that being a witness to bullying was associated with an increase in mental health issues and substance abuse. There was an increase in anxiety and depression in the children who admitted to only being a witness to bullying events.
While all avenues were not explored in the study, it does say that school counselors should look at the effects of bullying on bystanders as well when treating the bullying issue in their schools. As stated in the study by Rivers, Poteat, Noret, and Ashurst, there is already documentation that children and adolescents who are exposed to violence within their families or outside of school are at greater risk for mental health problems. So why should witnessing bullying violence be different.
Rivers et al. Observing bullying at school: The mental health implications of witness status.. School Psychology Quarterly, 2009; 24 (4): 211 DOI:10.1037/a0018164
American Psychological Association (2009, December 15). Witnesses to bullying may face more mental health risks than bullies and victims. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091214121449.htm