From the Editor: Bullying contributes to mental health issues, let’s address it every day

The steps of the legislature welcomed the sounds and stories of students taking a stand against bullying as they took part in a Pink Shirt Day variety show today. Premier Christy Clark welcomed student performers from Shoreline middle, Glenlyon Norfolk, and Reynolds secondary schools. Read more:

Pink Shirt Day, or Anti Bullying Day, occurs on the last Wednesday of February every year. (Province of British Columbia/Flickr)

Trigger warning: this article mentions bullying and suicide. If you or someone you know needs support, the 24/7 Talk Suicide Canada hotline is 1-833-456-4566, or the BC Crisis Centre hotline is 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE). Help is available, please reach out. 

Pink Shirt Day, or Anti-Bullying Day, has been observed in Canada since 2007 on the last Wednesday of every February. It began in Canada when two students in Nova Scotia bought 50 pink shirts to distribute at their high school after a student was bullied for wearing pink on the first day of school. 

What started as a protest to support their classmate became an international anti-bullying movement, with fundraisers opening in Japan, China, Panama, and many other countries. According to CKNW Kids’ Fund Pink Shirt Day, almost 180 countries supported the movement last year.  

For those that don’t know, bullying is a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance. It’s defined as a behaviour that makes the target feel afraid, alone, or uncomfortable. Bullying can be physical, verbal, social, relational, or cyber, and happens year-round. 

In 2019, Statistics Canada conducted a health survey on children and youth, and the majority between the ages 12 to 17 reported experiencing at least one form of bullying within the previous year. 

The survey found that among youth who experienced bullying, about 42 per cent reported experiencing it monthly or more frequently, and 58 per cent reported experiencing bullying a few times a year. 

Fifty-nine per cent of youth reported being made fun of, called names, or insulted, 34 per cent reported rumours spread by others, and 32 per cent reported being excluded from activities. 

The survey also showed an increase in cyberbullying. About 80 per cent of youth surveyed reported being online at least weekly, and 60 per cent reported using social platforms several times a day. 

Of youth aged 12 to 17 surveyed, 25 per cent experienced cyberbullying within the previous year, and 16 per cent reported being threatened or insulted online or by text message. Thirteen per cent reported being excluded from an online community, and nine per cent reported having hurtful information posted online. The survey also showed that rates of cyberbullying increased with age. 

Of youth who reported regular occurrences of bullying, 72 per cent said their lives were stressful. The survey compared this to the 59 per cent who experienced bullying a few times a year and 44 per cent who did not experience bullying that reported their lives being stressful. 

Youth who experience bullying frequently also reported difficulty getting to sleep, headaches, stomach aches, or backaches. 

So, why do I throw all these statistics at you? Youth and adults who are tormented by bullying are at an increased risk for mental health illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, and it contributes to the likelihood of a person committing suicide. 

According to a fact sheet by the University of the Fraser Valley, studies have linked racial harassment to psychological strain, depression, and nervousness. Those who are bullied, harassed, or intimidated are also at increased risk for developing low self-confidence and face negative academic outcomes. 

“Those who bully others may develop a distorted self-image, wielding aggression as a form of power. These individuals are at a higher risk for developing a mental illness, failing to complete educational programs, inconsistent employment patterns, and a heightened risk for criminal involvement,” reads the fact sheet. 

I was bullied by students and teachers for seven years in grade school before I changed high schools. I thought something was wrong with me, that I did something to deserve it, so I didn’t say anything to my mom about the bullying — she didn’t find out until much later. Looking back now over a decade later, I wish I could tell myself that no one deserves to be treated like that and there were options to get away from it. 

Of course, bullying isn’t only faced by students on campus or online, we see it in forms of intimidation in work environments too — which I have also experienced, and I expect to experience it again as I pursue a career in journalism. 

It’s important to have a support system around you and know your rights as a student and employee, because you are not alone.