In South Africa, an estimated 41% of children are bullied at school in some shape or form. Picture: Pexels
In South Africa  41% of children are bullied at school in some shape or form, and experts believe that can increase the risk of depressive disorders and the need for psychiatric treatment later in life.

July is National Mental Illness Awareness Month, a month to highlight the need for greater public awareness about mental health.

Parents take note: Shouqat Mugjenker, Mental Health Portfolio Manager at Pharma Dynamics says bullying, which is a major societal problem globally and in South Africa, has far-reaching mental health effects, which many carry into adulthood.

“By the time we’re adults, we are generally expected to have gotten over it, but the impact can be serious and last a lifetime."

“We know that children who are bullied often suffer from low self-esteem, poor academic performance, depression and an increased risk for suicide, but up until now very little was known about the long-term psychological impact on adults who were victims of bullying in their youth.”

There are few studies that support this, the studies found that victims’ health, relationships and even economic status may be at risk well into middle age.

A study conducted by Kings College in London, surveyed more than 18 000 children born in the same week from the age of 7 to 50 years in an attempt to determine the impact of bullying over a period of 40 years. They found that victims of bullying had more psychological stress, were at higher risk of depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety disorders throughout their adult life compared to those that weren’t exposed to it. Many victims also reported poor health, along with poor cognitive functioning.

Mugjenker adds that  “in a country such as ours where extreme levels of violence and bullying among youth is an everyday occurrence, much more needs to be done to prevent this type of behaviour. Nowadays bullying is also not just limited to the classroom, but has extended to cyberbullying, which includes any type of bullying performed via cellphones, social media or the internet. These channels allow bullies to harass victims anonymously whenever they want to without fear of being caught.”

Here are some suggestions to help your child:

There are many behaviours that may look like bullying, but require different approaches, therefore it is important to understand exactly what bullying is. In short, it is a deliberate attempt to repeatedly hurt someone over an extended period. The bully often chooses someone he/she deems vulnerable in order to place him/her in a position of power.

Bully behaviour can manifest in physical abuse, verbal abuse, relational bullying, such as excluding the victim, spreading rumours or getting others to hurt the victim. Cyberbullying is another common form, which includes sending hurtful messages or images via the internet or cellphone.

Parents should be models for positive behaviour, so guard against gossiping, what you say and how you treat others as children will pick up on these traits. Be sure to provide a loving and supportive home structure where children feel emotionally safe and cared for.