Shocking research published in The Lancet last month shows that children who are bullied by other children have a greater risk of developing mental health problems as young adults than those who have been maltreated by adults.
Worryingly children who have been bullied are five times more likely to experience anxiety and twice as likely to talk of suffering depression and self-harm as those who were maltreated at home (for more, see http://bit.ly/1EBnKMM).
Maltreatment includes physical or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, and neglect which have until now been the focus of concern regarding children’s mental health later in life. But with one in three children worldwide reporting being bullied, the authors of the study say it is time that bullying is taken more seriously.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) coordinates Anti-Bullying Week each November. This year the theme of the week, running from November 16 to 20, is “Make a Noise about Bullying” and our main aim is to empower children and young people to speak out about bullying, whether it is happening to them or someone else, face-to-face, or online.
We want to encourage schools to become “talking schools”, where all children and young people are given a safe space to discuss bullying and other issues that affect their lives, and are supported to report all forms of bullying.
Feedback from ABA partners suggests there is still fear among some schools around acknowledging that bullying happens. ABA always stresses that the schools that cause most concern are those that say “there is no bullying here”. Bullying can happen anywhere where there are people – and the best schools are those that say “yes it happens, but we know how to deal with it”.
Thankfully, Anti-Bullying Week is already well-established in the school calendar and ABA members tell us that this enables schools to feel safe and confident talking about bullying with their students. But this needs to happen all year round so we will be providing teachers with practical tools to respond effectively to resolve incidents of bullying.
We also want to raise awareness of the impact of bullying on children’s lives if they don’t tell anyone it is happening – or if they are not given appropriate support – particularly on their mental health. And with three children in every classroom experiencing mental health problems there is no time for complacency.
Bullying ruins lives and if we are to give our children the childhood they deserve we need buy-in from all those most directly involved in their lives. This year we will be hosting a roundtable with researchers and key policy-makers to call for a change in how we approach bullying prevention. The campaign will also focus on helping parents and carers to have conversations with their children about bullying.
Bullying, unlike almost any other issue, leaves millions of children at some point feeling terrified and alone. For those children who are more vulnerable to bullying – such as disabled children, LGBT young people and those of minority race and faith – this is so often how they feel on daily basis: scared to go to school, scared to play outside, scared to go online.
We join the authors of the above study in urging governments across the world to consider bullying as a public health issue and for schools, health services and other agencies to coordinate their response. We won’t stop until every school, every care home, every youth centre, every social network provider acknowledges that bullying happens and takes action to stop it.
Further informationFor more information on Anti-Bullying Week, visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/anti-bullying-week
Anna Feuchtwang is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk