Bullying Leads to Neurological Changes

The effects of being bullied in school can have a significant impact on how teens feel about themselves and how they develop relationships later in life. Teens who have been bullied often feel socially isolated and may experience school refusal if they are scared of being victimized at school. Fears associated with the threat of bullying contribute to neurological changes in the brain that increase teen’s levels of anxiety and make it more difficult for them to heal from the effects of bullying.

Prevalence of Bullying in Schools 

While bullying is a global phenomenon, rates of bullying have escalated with the rise of cyberbullying. Researchers believe more than 3.2 million American students experience bullying every year–about 1 percent of the nation’s total population. Among these students, about 10 to 15 percent experience “chronic” or persistent bullying that will last more than six continuous months. While bullying peaks in middle school, the effects of peer victimization can be long-lasting, continuing to influence relationships and wellbeing into adulthood. 

The World Health Organization reports that children who are bullied are more likely to experience a range of problems, such as:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Socially withdrawn behavior
  • School difficulties
  • Substance use 
  • Poor physical health
  • Later victimization

Neurological Changes After Bullying

Using brain imaging, researchers at King’s College analyzed the effects of bullying over time and found that participants who experienced chronic bullying has significantly less volume in regions of the brain involved in movement and learning. They claimed that higher levels of anxiety experienced by participants could be explained by decreased activity in these regions. 

“The brain is plastic throughout our life. That’s how we continue to learn, that’s how environment continues to shape our behavior,” explains lead author, neuroscientist Erin Burke Quinlan. “While the decreased volume in these areas depicted on the MRI may represent a temporary state, increased anxiety can reinforce low levels of activity in these regions that are supposed to help teens self-regulate, which can extend the effects of bullying.”

Healing From Bullying

  • More Love. Social support is one of the most effective ways of overcoming relational fears associated with being bullied. A positive school climate can help teens feel more supported at school and allows teens to focus on personal goals rather than their physical safety.  
  • Less Fear. Teen’s brains are rewired by experiences of being bullied to be scared of rejection and abandonment in social situations. It is important for teens to try to confront their fears to reverse neurological damage that reinforces these fears. Through cognitive behavioral therapy and recreation activities, teens learn to identify and challenge negative beliefs that are holding them back from being present in relationships.

Elevations Can Help

Elevations RTC is an all gender residential treatment center for teens ages 13-18 that helps students struggling with the effects of being bullied and other mental health issues. Our goal is to help students process their past experiences and learn how to manage their emotions. Elevations RTC uses a holistic approach which allows students to see how all of the aspects of their lives connect to each other. We emphasize building social skills and self-esteem to help students move forward and develop healthier coping strategies.

For information about finding help for teens who have been bullied, call today!


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