understanding bullying

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If you’re having problems with bullying, there is support available.

Download factsheet on Bullying

Bullying is not just ‘playing around’ or harmless fun. Bullying happens when someone has (or thinks they have) more power than someone else. This could be

  • power in numbers

  • being older or stronger

  • popularity

  • being in the majority.

Bullying can increase the risk of developing mental health problems for everyone involved, particularly those experiencing bullying.

Bullying can take place anywhere. It can happen at home, at work, in school, at TAFE/uni, online or over the phone.

There are many forms of bullying including:

  • verbal (e.g. putting someone down or threatening to cause harm)

  • physical (e.g. contact that hurts someone or breaks their things)

  • social (e.g. spreading rumours, excluding someone, embarrassing someone in public)

  • cyberbullying (e.g. sending harmful messages, pictures or making comments on social networking sites, like Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat). This type of bullying can be anonymous and posted online where it can be seen by lots of people. And it can go on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so people don’t get a rest from it.

Bullying can also be done secretly, like doing or saying something behind someone’s back. This type of bullying can be harder to see, but it’s no less damaging.

Unfortunately bullying is common. Almost a quarter of young people aged 14-25 reported being bullied in the previous 12 months.

Bullying is not OK. It’s not simply ‘a normal part of growing up’, and help is always available to make things better.

If you’re having problems with bullying, it’s important to build your supports and know you’re not alone. Building a support network of family friends, staff from school or work and / or mental health professionals is important to put a stop to bullying as quickly as possible.

Why does bullying happen?

There are many reasons why someone might use bullying behaviour. For example, people who’ve had a stressful or traumatic experience in the past five years are far more likely to bully. It’s still important to remember, this doesn’t make it OK.

People who bully may have experienced bullying or violence themselves. They might use bullying because they feel peer pressure, and are trying to feel more secure, more powerful, ‘look cool’ in front of others, and feel better about themselves. This may be their way of coping – if they haven’t learnt better ways to cope or aren’t getting the support that they need. Bullying behaviour can also happen because of jealousy, lack of knowledge, fear or misunderstanding.  

It’s important to know that bullying is very complex. A person might use bullying behaviour, be a bystander while bullying is occurring and/or experience bullying.

It depends on who is around and what the situation is. Each of these different roles has a negative impact on mental health and can make experiencing mental health problems more likely.

What are the effects of bullying?

Anyone who has experienced bullying knows how upsetting it is. They might feel:

  • alone

  • unsafe

  • afraid

  • stressed

  • humiliated

  • angry

  • ashamed

  • rejected.

Sometimes a person might feel that there is no escape and may do things to ‘fit in’, like changing their appearance or acting differently. They may believe some of the awful things said about them, which can impact their sense of self. Sometimes they might want to hurt others, or themselves, because of it.

Being bullied can affect a person’s performance at school, uni or work, and can continue to affect them through adulthood.  

Experiencing bullying can also increase the risk that someone will develop depression and anxiety in the future, and can increase the risk of self harm, suicidal thinking and suicide. Bullying can be traumatic, especially when carried out or ignored by friends or peers, as having these relationships are so important in everyone’s life. 

Young people report one of the worst parts of bullying is feeling like they’re going through it alone, which is why it’s so important to support anyone going through a rough time, or reaching out if you’re struggling yourself.


What can you do about bullying?

  • Stay calm. It can be really hard but learning not to feel or show that you’re overwhelmed can help you feel better. It might also mean the bullying stops because you’re not reacting to it. Try focusing on your breathing as a way to calm yourself. Try to keep your head held high and not give them the satisfaction of a reaction. You can always let your feelings out later when you’re with your supportive networks.

  • Don’t fight back. If you fight back you can make the situation worse, get hurt or be blamed for starting the trouble.

  • Try to ignore the bullying by calmly turning and walking away. If the person doing the bullying tries to stop or block you, try to be firm and clear. Having friends to stand with you or walk you away is a great idea in these moments.

  • Try to avoid the person who is bullying you or ask a friend to stay with you when they’re around.

  • Tell a trusted adult what has happened straight away. This can help you to find ways to get the bullying to stop and overcome the negative feelings that can result from the bullying as soon as possible. It can also help you to prevent more serious health issues that can result from bullying in the future.

  • Get some more information. Schools and workplaces have anti-bullying policies that can help you to find out what you can do.   
  • Report any bullying to the site where it is occurring. All social media platforms have a reporting system. It’s anonymous, straightforward and depending on what you’ve reported, there’s a chance it could get taken down quickly.

  • Keep everything that is sent to you with screenshots, whether they’re nasty comments, pictures or messages – try get a permanent copy of it. This is so you can show these to someone you trust later on.

  • If after 48 hours the image or content has not been removed by the site, or if you’re feeling afraid or threatened, contact the eSafety Commissioner

  • Don’t give the people who are cyberbullying the satisfaction of an emotional response – don’t feed the trolls!

  • Talk to friends you trust. Let them know how you’re feeling and that you need their support and advice.

  • Ask your friends to stand up for you by challenging the bullying in low-risk ways.

  • Talk to your parents, carer, teacher or another trusted adult about what’s happening. When parents and schools work together, this is the best way to address it.

  • Block the person or people from being able to contact you and change your privacy settings to protect what you post on social media.

  • Delete your current online account and start a new one if the bullying is persistent and ongoing. Only give your new details to a small list of trusted friends.
  • Ask them about their situation. Remember to be respectful, caring and understanding. They may not feel like answering and that is OK.

  • Listen to them and let them know they’re not alone. You don’t have to have all the answers, but it may help them to know that a lot of other young people are going through this as well.

  • Reassure them that things will get better. Remind them that they don’t have to handle this on their own.

  • Support them to seek help. Help them decide how to approach the situation. Discuss who they could talk to about the bullying, like a trusted adult. If the bullying is at school, a trusted teacher is a good place to start.

  • Make sure they’re safe. Sometimes this may mean you need to take action and speak to a trusted adult, even if they don’t want you to. Let them know what you’re planning to do if this is the case – they might not be happy about this initially but in the long run they will usually understand why you did it.

  • Look out for their mental health. Bullying can have a serious effect on someone’s mental and physical health. If you feel like your friend is struggling because of bullying, they may need professional support. They can visit a general practitioner (GP), go online to eheadspace or their local headspace centre.

Try to remember, it’s unlikely that everyone agrees with the person bullying or is going along with them, even if they don’t say something to support you. They might be afraid of getting involved or could be ignoring the person bullying as a way of not joining in. It’s important that everyone feels comfortable standing up for one another in ways that won’t put them at risk.


Who is a bystander?

Someone who sees or knows about bullying is called a bystander. How a bystander responds to bullying 

It can feel difficult to step in but a bystander can have a big effect on whether the bullying continues or not. They also have the ability to help someone who has been targeted see that they have people who support them and care for them.

What can I do if I’m a bystander?

Try not to support the bullying by looking on and doing nothing, laughing at the person being bullied or by ‘liking’ or sharing hurtful photos or posts online.

Step in and speak up in an assertive but not an aggressive way. Show the person that you are there for them by spending time and chatting with them and helping them to walk away from the situation. Remind the person being bullied there is always help available.

It’s important to think carefully about your safety before you try to stop the bullying. If you can’t safely take action yourself, report it to a trusted adult and let them know you want to remain anonymous.


Other useful resources

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For support with how you’re feeling visit:

For more information about bullying visit:

The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

1 October 2018

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