Concern at the impact on students who witness bullying

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Schools should focus on supporting the mental health of those students who observe bullying, researchers have said.

New research has shown that “helplessness” is significantly associated with suicidal thoughts among students who observe bullying at school.

The research, led by Professor Ian Rivers at Brunel University, also suggests that “perceived helplessness” has a significant impact upon the ability of school-aged students to intervene when someone is being bullied.

Using data gathered from 1,500 students from schools in England, the researchers explored contextual factors that predict suicidal thoughts among students who observe bullying at school.

The results showed that self-reported helplessness among observers was a significant predictor of suicidal thoughts for both boys and girls, raising fears about the mental health of students who witness bullying.

Much of the existing research has focused on the victims and perpetrators, as it has been assumed that other young people remain largely unaffected by the actions they have witnessed or heard about.

The researchers say the results show that supporting those who observe bullying has an important part to play in understanding the mental health of the whole school population.

Prof Rivers said: “While it is important to note that suicide ideation among those who observe bullying remains relatively low, these findings emphasise the need for more research to focus on the wellbeing of those who observe bullying.

“Further exploring their status within the school hierarchy and addressing some of the issues of perceived helplessness could help to identify roles that these students can potentially play in anti-bullying interventions.”

The paper Potential Suicide Ideation and Observing Bullying at School was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health this week.


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