Promoting Understanding of Bullying & Self-Harm

Megan Low on April 11, 2016

A widespread issue within elementary and high schools, bullying among students has been much discussed and debated. With anti-bullying policies and campaigns put in place, there have been plenty of successful efforts to educate and eliminate the spread of bullying in and outside of schools. That being said, bullying has by no means been eradicated and continues to persist in various ways—social exclusion, teasing, physical bullying, and cyberbullying are just a few. For example, among youth who completed the BC Adolescent Health Survey (BC AHS), 43% of females and 26% of males reported being socially excluded, 43% of females and 31% of males reported being teased, 5% of females and 10% of males reported being physically bullied, and 19% of females and 10% of males report being cyberbullied within the last year.

The survey also found that youth who had been bullied at least once in the past year were more likely to report self-harm compared to those who had not been bullied. This number was higher among youth who have experienced more than one type of bullying and is higher overall among females. For example, among youth who self-harmed, 34% reported being physically assaulted (vs. 15% without this experience). A similar link was also seen between self-harm and experiences of being teased and cyberbullied.

In developing the report Unspoken thoughts and hidden facts: A snapshot of BC youth’s mental health report, 28 youth researchers, with support from the McCreary Centre Society, analyzed and presented findings based on data taken from the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey. Part of this report included an informative look into bullying and its relation to self-harming behaviours.

The report gives us a sense of how bullying impacts students and speaks to the urgency of addressing such issues. As one youth who completed the BC AHS wrote:

"I was bullied as a child so I have very low self-esteem. It stopped after grade 8 because the principal at my third school finally listened to my story."

Although the relationship between bullying and self-harm can be hard to understand for those without lived experience, it is important that discussions around bullying acknowledge the reality that self-harm occurs and take steps toward providing resources and increasing awareness.

Some protective factors for youth revealed in the survey included feeling safe at school and having friends. For example, students who reported feeling safe at school were also more likely to report having good/excellent mental health. Feeling safe also increased the likelihood that students would seek out mental health services when needed. Having supportive friends with healthy attitudes toward risky behaviours also strongly influences positive mental health. In general, youth who had no close friends were more likely to report poor/fair mental health but as the number of close friends increased, rates of self-harm decreased along with low mental health ratings. 

For more on promoting positive mental health and the report, Unspoken thoughts and hidden facts: A snapshot of BC youth’s mental health, check out

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BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

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