Pratiksha was a meritorious 11 year-old girl, who behaved nicely with everyone and followed the school rules duly. However, she was severely bullied by her classmates for her dark complexion. Her parents regularly advised her to ignore the bullies and her teachers occasionally rebuked the students who chided her. However, every time she complained to the teachers, she was subjected to more intense bullying. Eventually, Pratiksha lost her focus and interest in studies, became quarrelsome and dropped out of school.
Bullying has prevailed in educational institutions, not because it is okay, but simply because it is ignored and considered as a normal occurrence. In a study carried out among school students, as many as 49% students reported that their class teacher did “nothing or little”, to prevent bullying incidents in the class. Such things lead to scenarios where a culture of bullying becomes prevalent, and students feel compelled to put up with it knowing that they are unlikely to get anything beyond temporary relief. As many as 59.1% of students surveyed in the study felt sorry for the victim of bullying, but, only about 24% actually tried helping the affected classmate. Verbal bullying accounts for over 55% of all incidents whereas physical bullying affects about 32.7% of the students. Common tactics of the bullies include acts such as spreading rumours, resorting to isolation of the victim, passing comments on gender, appearance, complexion, caste and social status of the victim.
Mental health impact of bullying on students
As an outcome of bullying, the children who are victimized become fearful of social stigma and physical/mental harm. They are prone to withdraw into a shell and suffer decline in their social and academic performances. Here are some of the effects they are likely to suffer from persistent bullying.
- Social isolation
- Feelings of shame
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Poor self-esteem
- Dropping out of school
- Anxiety and stress
- Higher risk of illness
- Psychosomatic symptoms (stomach aches, headaches, muscle aches, other physical complaints with no known medical cause)
- Low academic grades
In the last few years, the widespread media coverage of incidents of bullying and instances of student suicides due to bullying, compelled the authorities to take note and create policies and guidelines for the prevention of bullying in schools. CBSE made it mandatory in 2015, to setup Anti-Bullying committees comprising the school vice-principal, senior teacher, school doctor, a counsellor, parent-teacher representative, school management representative, a legal representative and peer educators. It has further recommended the presence of different counsellors for primary, middle and secondary schools.
The importance of online mental health apps in tackling the menace
It is amply clear that bullying is a complex challenge with severe implications on a child’s physical and mental wellness as well as long-term growth and development of personality. Hence, counselling must be provided by specialists and well-trained counsellors who can recognize different mental development stages and offer counselling that generates trust. Since the victims are likely to be unwilling to talk about their experience openly, access to high quality app-based counselling becomes much more effective for them. It is common for even schoolchildren to have access to internet and smartphones across India. Parents can also encourage them to use such app based counselling platforms which ensure complete privacy, speedy and accurate response and understanding to the children from within their homes. Today, when communicating online has become more preferable than in-person discussions, app-based counselling is a win-win option for the affected as well as the counsellors.
Bullying is a deeply rooted and well-spread out social problem and requires deft handling as well as care at multiple touchpoints. Online platforms offering counselling are a potent tool in modern society and the time is right for educators, parents, policy makers and the students to use technology to eliminate bullying from institutions. There are various high quality counselling platforms available in India that can offer anytime, anywhere access to all. Let us all work towards building an inclusive and bullying free society across India!
(The article has been written by Tapti Malhotra, Counselling Psychologist, United We Care)