Spotting the signs of bullying

Bullying, usually defined as repeated behaviour with intent to hurt a person physically or emotionally, can take many forms: physical assault, making threats, name-calling or cyberbullying (online).

Generally, bullying is referred to as something that happens during your school years but, in reality, it can happen at any time. It’s important to know the signs to look out for and how you can help.

Signs to look out for

Many people will keep their worries to themselves, they may brush it off as banter, or they may not know who to turn to. Whether it be a school child or a colleague at work, there are common signs that may indicate a problem:

  • injuries without explanation
  • missing or broken belongings
  • frequent complaint of headaches or nausea
  • increased sick days or faking illness
  • lack of sleep
  • loss of confidence
  • being nervous
  • feeling tired or irritable
  • change in attitude
  • lack of interest and motivation
  • become less social
  • keeps to themselves (more than usual)

When I saw a girl being bullied, I decided to just be there and listen to her. I shared a bit of what was happening to me, to show she was not alone.

What is bullying?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a joke and bullying, it really depends on the people involved. One person may think they are being funny, whilst the other may feel entirely different. For example, at school or college, a student may make a joke. Because they are surrounded by friends, laughing, the person on the receiving end may laugh, but may internally feel intimidated and like everyone is against them.

Perhaps it’s a situation at work involving two colleagues who've developed quite a cold relationship. Does one person appear to react aggressively? Are they the bully or have they been driven to feel this way?

If you’re worried about a situation, approach it with care and empathy. Learn how both parties feel - maybe there is something deeper going on in their personal lives and they are taking the stress out on others. They may not realise they are upsetting someone, but if you think a joke or a conversation has gone too far, or if you notice a change in behaviour, be there. Talk to them and listen.

How can you help?

There are some simple ways you can help a person being bullied. If you are worried about a friend, pulling them aside and talking to them can be a great help. If they aren’t ready to talk, don’t push them. Reassure them and listen when they are ready.

If a person feels like they are being bullied, it can be a very long, lonely journey. Sometimes, when a person is going through a tough time, simply knowing that someone cares and is there for them can be very effective.

Depending on the situation, intervening as it happens can help, though be careful to not get yourself involved. If it is a recurring problem, talking to someone higher up can take the weight off your shoulders. If you’re at work, speak to HR and mention you have witnessed the situation. The victim may not want to talk, but it will bring it to their attention that someone is looking out for them. 

For further help, contact one of our 13,000 professional counsellors and therapists who are specially trained to offer support with bullying.

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