Students who watch peers being bullied verbally or physically, could become as distressed if not more so, by the events than the victims themselves. Bullies and bystanders may also be more likely to take drugs and drink alcohol, according to these findings.
“Children and adolescents who are exposed to violence within their families or outside of school are at a greater risk for mental health problems than those children who are not exposed to any violence,” said Ian Rivers of Brunel University, who led the study. Researchers surveyed 2,002 students aged 12 to 16 years at 14 public schools in England.
The students were presented with a list of numerous bullying behaviours, such as name-calling, kicking, hitting, spreading rumours and threatening violence. The students indicated whether they had committed, witnessed or been the victim of any of these behaviours during the previous nine-week school term and, if so, how often.
The majority, 63 per cent, said they witnessed peers being bullied. 34 per cent of respondents said they had been victims and 20 percent said they had been perpetrators.
28 per cent said they were completely uninvolved in any bullying episodes. Girls reported seeing bullying more than boys. Rivers, along with co-author Paul Poteat, Boston College, hopes this study will encourage schools to be more aware of the impact of simply witnessing acts of bullying can have on the mental health of students.