Unfriendly friendships

18 November 2021

Bullying and friendship issues and their impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Last year, ReachOut.com released the research report Unfriendly Friendships, exploring bullying and friendship issues and their impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Among the findings were that textbook definitions of bullying miss the mark with young people.

It concluded that young people found it difficult to label their experiences as bullying, particularly if the bullying comes from a friend, even when the experience is causing significant emotional distress.

Traditional definition and perceptions of ‘a bully’ as a stranger or someone outside of peer groups, means that young people may not act or seek support when these issues are present within friendship groups.

The prevalence

The report outlined the findings of two online surveys.

The first asked young people if they were bullied according to a standard definition of bullying. One in four young people self-reported they were bullied in the past year (24.2%).

The second survey asked young people if they had experienced a series of behaviours typically associated with bullying and peer issues.

Almost half (46.3%) experienced at least one of the bullying behaviours in the past month – considerably higher than the self-reported rate of bullying.

The most common peer and bullying behaviours experienced included:

  • being ignored (41.4%),
  • having someone talk about them behind their back (31.6%)
  • having gossip or rumours spread about them (23.2%).

The impact

Different behaviours impacted young people to varying degrees.

The most impactful behaviour experienced was being sent abusive or hurtful messages (typical of cyberbullying) with 73.8 per cent of young people reporting a moderate to major impact on mental health and wellbeing

Being excluded online (73.7%) closely followed, just higher than the impact of physical bullying (71.1%).

Resources to help

To help at your school, access ReachOut’s bullying and friendship resources:

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