How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect bullying behavior?

Key points

  • Mental health experts and anti-bullying advocates say they have witnessed an increase in bullying behavior in recent years.
  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s emotional state may have led to an increase in bullying behavior.
  • For schools and workplaces, promoting bullying prevention strategies is more important than ever.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and spreading awareness of the issue is more important than ever. Bullying is a global problem that affects people of all ages in many forms. The COVID-19 pandemic did not inspire goodwill and understanding, but instead seemed to exacerbate the problem.

“Unfortunately, I have observed an increase in bullying behavior in the past few years,” said Leela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional medical director of the Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Center. “Children, adolescents and adults of all ages say that they are bullied more frequently and more severely in different environments, including online, school, work and even family.”

Bullying pandemic

Dr. Magavi believes that the pandemic has adversely affected the emotional state of individuals, which has led to an increase in bullying behavior. “Depression and anxiety can manifest as irritability and anger, which can lead to increased bullying, abuse, and violent behavior,” she explained. “When individuals feel completely helpless, they may vent their anger on others. People may find it easy and comforting to blame others because it may help them gain a sense of control.”

The increase in conspiracy theories may be another factor. “These may significantly exacerbate gloating (the happiness gained from the misfortune of others) and feelings of helplessness and isolation,” said Dr. Magawi. “It is at these sad moments that vulnerable people are eager to connect. Therefore, the powerful are idealized for comfort.”

Leela R. Magavi, MD

Children, adolescents and adults of all ages said that they are bullied more frequently and severely in different environments, including online, school, work and even family.

— Leela R. Magavi, MD

When everyone in a person’s inner circle believes that someone is the savior, deviating from this belief can mean losing friends and family. “In many communities, people spend most of their childhood learning about anxiety-causing conspiracy theories that promote divisive or all-or-nothing thinking,” said Dr. Magawi. Later, these children may grow up, believing that the individuals are either all good or all bad, and therefore will engage in more bullying.

There are many forms of bullying

Sherri Gordon, an advocate for bullying prevention in central Ohio and author of multiple books, said cyberbullying has become a big problem especially for young people. Dealing with online incitement and trolling and Are you at risk of being abused?

Gordon explained that the limited social interaction during the pandemic has caused people to rely more on technology and social media for peer-to-peer connections. “Ultimately, this environment has become a hotbed of bullying and online humiliation,” she said.

Due to COVID-19, the reasons why people are bullied or humiliated have also changed. Gordon said that people may be bullied by wearing masks, vaccinated, not vaccinated, or even contracting COVID.

Bullying today

According to data from the National Education Statistics Center, one-fifth (20.2%) of students report being bullied at school, and male students are more likely to be physically bullied than female students. However, a higher percentage of female students reported being the target of rumors and being deliberately excluded from activities.

A national survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that 30% of American workers have experienced bullying in the workplace, 19% have witnessed this situation, and 66% are aware that it is happening .


Gordon also emphasized a trend of spreading TikTok. Under this trend, children face the challenge of beating teachers or destroying the school, and then post it online to “complete” the challenge. “A quick search on Google, you will find that countless schools across the country are dealing with this problem-even my son’s school has sent home notices about this behavior,” she said. “Although this is not technically bullying, you can see that people often use social media as a tool to harm others.”

Anyone is at risk of being bullied, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. However, some people are at greater risk than others, including those without a strong support network, those with physical or mental limitations, people who are seen as different in some ways, and those with anxiety or self-esteem issues. . Gordon said: “Even people who are popular can still be targeted by bullies.” “These people are targeted because other people are jealous of who they are and want to hurt them in some way.”

The impact of bullying

Bullying can have a significant and long-term impact on a child’s mental health, even into adulthood. “When children are bullied, their self-esteem and self-image are affected,” said GinaMarie Guarino, TN therapist at LMHC. “Bullying can lead to low self-esteem and loss of confidence, as well as other mental health effects such as anxiety, depression, and aggression.”

In addition, children who are bullied may have difficulty establishing contact with others, feel that they are worthy of being loved, and learn how to regulate and express their emotions in a healthy way.

Gina Marie Guarino, LMHC

Bullying can lead to low self-esteem and loss of confidence, as well as other mental health effects such as anxiety, depression, and aggression.

— GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC


Of course, adults also suffer the long-term consequences of bullying. But Guarino said children are more vulnerable because the key developmental process occurs in childhood. “Children understand the world and how they fit into it in childhood,” she explained. “They learn how to get along with others, understand who they are, and develop their identity.” If a child is bullied, they will learn negative lessons about how they adapt to the world around them, and the bullied adult may already have something These life skills can provide them with adaptability.

Guarino said the way adults are bullied will depend on several factors, such as emotion regulation skills, self-esteem, support networks, learned coping skills, and ability to adapt to stress.

End bullying

As an advocate for the prevention of bullying in school, Gordon is worried about the direction of bullying. The impact of COVID-19 on mental health has been well documented, so it is worrying that much-needed prevention strategies are not as available as before.

“Before the pandemic, there were plans in place to help change the school climate, build student acceptance, and prevent bullying,” Gordon said. “In a school where I volunteer, we have a climate group where we will meet with different groups of students and formulate strategies on how to change the school’s internal climate and prevent bullying. Due to the pandemic, this group no longer meets. Therefore, the pandemic has made it challenging to address bullying in the way we are used to.”

Shirley Gordon

The problem of bullying will not disappear because we are in a pandemic — it may even increase — so we can’t let this issue be set aside. If we do this, all our progress may be reversed.

— Shirley Gordon

Many schools and workplaces are so overwhelmed by pandemic demands that their employees simply don’t have the time or energy to prevent bullying. “We will have to be creative in how to solve these problems,” Gordon said. “The bullying problem will not disappear because we are in a pandemic — it may even increase — so we can’t let this problem be set aside. If we do, all our progress may be reversed.”

Bullying is a complex issue, and its complete eradication requires a multifaceted approach. But Gordon believes that the most important thing society can do is to become intolerant of bullying.

On a personal level, this means that whenever it occurs online or in person, it shows that you do not support such behavior. “Even just providing support to victims can do a lot,” Gordon said.

What this means to you

If you or your child is a victim of bullying and you need help to deal with the situation, a local support group assisted by a mental health professional may be helpful. This provides a space for mutual support for people with similar experiences, and gives members the ability to self-advocate and build a healthy sense of self-esteem.

Personal counseling can also help children and adults learn the skills to deal with emotions and negative thoughts caused by being bullied. Various resources are available on stopbullying.gov.

If you are concerned about your safety, please seek legal support and contact the police.

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