By Anjalee Patel, Cedar Hill Prep School Counselor
Mental health includes our psychological, emotional, and social well-being. It not only affects how we feel and behave, but it also determines how we handle stress, gets along with others, and make choices. Mental health is a significant element of growth from childhood to adulthood, one that establishes our overall state of well-being. Our ability to create healthy coping mechanisms, engage in meaningful social interactions, create positive self-esteem, and enjoy life all rely on positive mental health.
Many young people today struggle with poor mental health. As a result, these youth may experience declining grades, bad health, and difficulty in decision-making. Bullying at school is a common cause for mental health issues in young people. Because we know that mental habits established in adolescence carry over into adulthood, it is of utmost importance to assist youth in developing good mental health from a very early age. It is absolutely critical that we take measures to address bullying and create school cultures that protect our young people.
School as Mental Health Support System
Schools need to be safe, supportive environments. This is a critical element for a young person’s well-being. When done well, schools can train their staff to help students struggling with poor mental health, provide students with access to mental health services, integrate emotional learning, and review school discipline policies to ensure equity. Schools can also encourage parents to assist by creating opportunities for parents to be involved. When parents volunteer for school events, communicate openly with teachers and administration and talk honestly with their children about mental health in the school setting, they are showing their children that they are involved in their personal experience and well-being while at school.
Building Healthy Relationships
Youth need to feel cared for and loved. Building strong relational bonds provide youth with a sense of connectedness which can protect adolescents from experiencing poor mental health and can keep them from partaking in harmful behaviors.
Healthy adolescent relationships allow young people to safely express themselves in a respectful manner. This comfort level often comes from a cultivated sense of mutual trust and understanding. A healthy amount of compromise is important in a relationship, where each person can acknowledge different points of view and be willing to give and take fairly. Conflict arises in every relationship, but those who are fair avoid insulting remarks and try to come up with possible solutions.
Bullying’s Effects on Mental Health & Behavior
Bullying is the opposite of a healthy adolescent relationship. This kind of interaction can have serious detrimental effects on the mental health of a student. Students who are bullied often exemplify signs of depression and low self-esteem. They tend to be more anxious and socially avoidant. Parents, teachers, counselors, and coaches can be helpful in not only identifying signs of bullying and resultant distress in children but also in addressing these issues directly with students. There are often many warning signs of bullying to be aware of such as loss of appetite or excessive eating, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, frequent complaints of ailments such as headaches or stomach aches, having trouble falling asleep, and engaging in self-destructive behaviors. If a student is demonstrating these sorts of behaviors, it is important to address it by alerting the student’s parent(s) and the school’s mental health resource. It is, however, always important to remember that some students may not exhibit any warning signs at all.
The mental health of bystanders to bullying is also something that’s important to be aware of. Studies have shown that students who witness bullying at school showed an increase in depression and anxiety. This increase occurred regardless of whether they supported the bully or the victim. The stress the bystander feels may be due to guilt over not helping and fear of the chance of retaliation.
There are many reasons children don’t ask for help when experiencing bullying. They may worry about the repercussions of the bully finding out. Sometimes handling it on their own makes them feel like they are in control. Some children may feel that their peers will reject them while others may be embarrassed that bullies may share humiliating information about them. It’s important to understand that kids will not always come clean about bullying.
Identifying Characteristics of a Bully
Identifying character traits common in children with bullying tendencies is important. Some characteristics of a child who bullies include a network of friends who also bully others, an increasingly aggressive personality and temperament, a tendency to blame others for their issues, habitual physical and verbal altercations, and worrying about their reputation. It is critical to remember that many children who bully others are often acting out of some unexamined trauma or insecurity. Children who bully commonly have some instability in their personal lives, low self-esteem, and/or a need for attention. School faculty can work to diminish bullying by learning to artfully discover the core reason for a bully’s behavior, helping to bring healing and resolution, and always encouraging in students a respect for diversity of appearance and behavior.
It is important for a school culture to set up their staff and students for successful education by building a safe, supportive community. By learning to identify warning signs, both for children who are experiencing bullying and those who are bullying, schools can create appropriate training, procedures, and resources to ensure everyone is treated with respect and love. A bully-free school is the most powerful learning environment.