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Bullying and the Toll it Takes


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We all remember the bullies that picked on kids at school; the ones that name called, teased or tried to intimidate. The ones who made others feel left out.

We have come to understand more clearly how bullying can deeply wound children, in some cases permanently.

Canada has witnessed a rise in bullying as the public has devoted greater attention to the issue in recent years. Today, it’s a major public safety and health concern.

The numbers behind the issue

  • At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada have reported being bullied.
  • Almost half of Canadian parents have reported having a child that is the victim of bullying.
  • Bullying occurs once every seven minutes on the playground and once every 25 minutes in the classroom.

Bullying is defined as "wilful, repeated aggressive behaviour with negative intent used by a child to maintain power over another child." The result is "a victimized child caught in an abusive relationship."

The most common forms are physical, verbal, social and cyber bullying, some of which may be considered illegal. They can range from tormenting through texts and emails to creating a fake online profile to ruin someone’s reputation.

The health impacts

Bullying is a traumatic experience that can have harmful, even tragic consequences for victims and offenders. Some victims and bullies may become depressed and begin to withdraw socially, while others react aggressively and turn to violence.

"Children who bully are 37% more likely to commit criminal offences as adults." Public Safety

Studies by researchers like PrevNet show children who are bullied suffer more headaches, stomach aches, panic attacks and nightmares. The longer they are bullied, the more likely they are to develop physical, emotional, and psychological scars that can last a lifetime.

Immediate impacts can include:

  • Social anxiety, loneliness, isolation
  • Low self esteem
  • School absenteeism and academic problems
  • Aggressive behaviours
  • Contemplating, attempting, or committing suicide
“Bullying can be devastating, leaving children withdrawn, shy, and insecure. They can become unable to sleep – or may sleep too much. They often do poorly in school due to loss of focus and confidence or erratic attendance as they try to escape bullies. When unrelenting, bullying can lead children to take their own lives.” BullyingCanada

Both victims and bullies are at greater risk of suicide.

The steps you can take

If you think your child is a victim of bullying, Public Health and the RCMP recommend you talk to them openly. Let them know they can trust you and they shouldn't deal with bullying alone.

If bullying is taking a toll on their mental health, be sure to seek professional help through your physician and/or your health benefit plan. Most plans offer a variety of mental health tools and resources, from Employee Assistant Program counselling to live virtual therapy.

The origins of Pink Shirt Day

February 24 is Pink Shirt Day, a global event to raise awareness and funds for anti-bullying programs, that originated in small-town Nova Scotia.

It was here, in 2007, that David Shepherd, Travis Price and their friends organized a high-school protest in sympathy with a younger student who had been bullied for wearing a pink shirt. They distributed pink shirts for other boys at the school to wear and stand up to the bullies.

Their campaign took off and has grown each year into a movement, with support and participation expanding around the world. Last year alone, people in almost 180 countries marked Pink Shirt Day by making donations and sharing social media posts.

The support you can give

Pink Shirt Day is a great example of how one small act of kindness can make such a big difference. This year’s focus is on working together and treating others with dignity and respect. As the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us, a healthy society relies on us to “lift each other up.”

How can you take part? Contribute to programs encouraging healthy self-esteem and teaching empathy, compassion and kindness. Learn how to prevent bullying and recognize the signs from sources like Public Health, which has a website dedicated to the issue.

Spread the word about anti-bullying through social media — and don’t forget to wear your pink shirt on February 24.