What to do if you’re being bullied

young woman holding up hand as stop sign

Where to find the help and support you need

There's no single way to fix bullying. The way forward will depend on your own situation - and this is going to be different for everyone. However, there is plenty of useful advice that holds true for many situations, as well as ways to deal with more specific types of bullying.

Below you'll find shared experiences from members of The Student Room who have experienced bullying, as well as practical advice from Martha Evans, director of the Anti-Bullying Alliance (the organisation behind Anti-Bullying Week), to help you deal with a bullying situation.

This year’s Anti-Bullying Week takes place during the week of 11-15 November, with the theme ‘Change Starts With Us’.

"Bullying is still a serious issue," says Martha. “We are all responsible and a small change can make a big difference.”

If you want to show your support, you can take part in Odd Socks Day on Tuesday 12 November. By wearing odd socks to school or work, Martha says you’ll be helping to “highlight that we are all unique”.

General tips on dealing with bullying

teacher and student in conversation

Don’t blame yourself

First of all: it’s not your fault that you’re being picked on. It can be hard to hang on to your self-esteem in the face of bullying, but it’s important to keep reminding yourself that you haven’t done anything to deserve this and the bully is the one with the problem.

“It doesn’t matter what colour hair you have; what trainers you are wearing; how you speak; how you walk; how you talk – it is not your fault if you get bullied," says Martha. "We are all different in some way and that’s what makes us amazing.”

Ask for help

Don’t suffer in silence – tell someone about the harassment. “It’s okay to feel upset about it," says Martha. "But what’s so important is to tell someone you trust about what’s happening. Absolutely do not keep it to yourself.”

You can choose who you feel most comfortable with asking for help. If you go to your teacher, for example, they might be able to improve the situation by punishing the bully or moving them into a different class. TSR member Retired_Messiah remembers how a teacher helped when they were being victimised, explaining that they “took it seriously”, “said something to the other kids” and “made [the] select dudes apologise to me”.

Parents
There are also lots of things that your parent or guardian can do to help. As well as providing invaluable emotional support, they can keep on your school’s case to make sure it’s doing everything that it can to stop the bullying. “I’ve never initially turned to teachers for support but the school always used to suddenly take action when parents got involved,” explains TSR member amelia_jasinski.

If the situation is especially tricky, your parents might even let you change schools completely, as TSR member CoolCavy experienced. “When I was being bullied physically and verbally the teachers did nothing. Moved schools and it was the best [thing] that could have happened.”

Friends
Friends can be a great source of support, too. Simply talking about what’s happening can ease your loneliness and make you feel better, not to mention that they can potentially rally around and help protect you from the bully. “You could try to hang out with a group who disapprove of bullying … They will [be] more likely to stand up for you, strength in numbers and all that,” suggests RelaxedPenguin.

If you’d feel more comfortable talking anonymously about what’s happening to you, you could also seek support from online communities, such as The Student Room forums - which include specific forums for mental health and relationships. “I wish I’d opened up earlier either on an online community like TSR or via something like Childline,” comments Charlotte’s Web.  “Ultimately I did not deserve to be bullied and I think I would have been spared many years of low self-esteem and anxiety if things had been taken seriously.”

Keep a record

You might want to try to forget about what’s happening to you, but, as painful as it might feel, it’s a good idea to keep a record of it. This can help your teacher or parent to understand the scope of the problem, as well as being proof of what you’re going through. “Write down happened, when it happened and who was involved,” says Martha.

Rise above it

Don’t be drawn into getting revenge on the bully. While the temptation to get your own back is very understandable, there are all sorts of ways this can backfire. “It can make things worse, you could get into trouble, and it could put you into a difficult position,” says Martha.

TSR member lia_r18 remembers having “an argument with one of the people who was bullying me and my teacher turned around and blamed me. I ended up with a detention out of it.”

Be kind to yourself

Spend as much time as possible doing things that make you happy. "Be kind to yourself and do things that help make you feel good, relax and make new friends,” says Martha.

TSR member Kathleenmusic16 explains that, when they were being bullied, they “found the most acceptance in my school’s drama department, and acting in plays has given me great confidence.”

Matokeandbeans had a similarly positive experience. “What helped me through it was a number of things. I started music, sport, all kinds of things to redefine myself to some extent. If I got in trouble, it wasn’t a problem because I kept myself busy with these things rather than dwelling in it.”

“People always say ‘take up a hobby or a sport’ and I used to be the kind of guy that was like ‘thanks for the cliched advice’, but they’re right,” says Row Z. “Once you identify something that you think you’ll enjoy, it’ll help you improve as a person and give you something else to do except dwell on your bullying.”

Dealing with specific types of bullying

worried looking young man looking at smartphone

Verbal bullying

Being picked on is stressful. It can drain your confidence and you might start to take to heart what the bully is saying. This might feel like a near-impossible task at times, but try not to let their words affect you. It’s never really about you; bullying stems from the bully's own weaknesses and insecurities.

In terms of dealing with verbal abuse while it’s happening, don’t get drawn into taking the bait and snapping back at the bully. Speaking about their experience with bullies, TSR member Kabloomybuzz recalls that by “speaking slowly, calmly and politely … they quickly got frustrated,” and ultimately “gave up, mostly because we weren’t taking the bait.”

“I used to try and show them that it didn’t bother me by ignoring them [and] not joining in but I didn’t avoid them or hide away either,” says VioletPhillippo. “I just carried on as normal, showing them that their behavior wasn’t going to make me back down or defeat me. Eventually it died out.”

Physical bullying

If a bully gets physical with you – for example hitting, shoving, kicking or messing around with your things – you might feel tempted to strike back. Getting violent is never a good idea, though, and Martha advises that you “do not retaliate”.

TSR member MagicNMedicine suggests that striking back in some way might even make things worse. “[Some people] think that if you stand up to a bully, the bully will be ‘taught a lesson’ and will stop bullying. Not likely. Any humiliation will be met by an escalation in response.”

Instead, your priority should always be to protect yourself – get to a safe place if you can, and ask a trusted adult for help.

Bullying that breaks the law

Some forms of bullying are illegal and should be reported to the police, as well as your parents and teachers. Bullying that breaks the law includes violence, assault and theft, as well as repeated harassment or intimidation such as name-calling, threats and abusive phone calls, emails or texts and hate crimes.

If you’re not sure whether any laws are being broken, it’s worth speaking to your school first. They will be able to help you report it to the police or social services if you need to.

Friends bullying

It can be really hard to recognise when you’re being bullied by someone close, but try to ask yourself what kind of behaviour you would expect from a friend. “If someone constantly puts you down they are not a real friend/boyfriend and not worth your time,” says Martha.

For TSR member Charlotte’s Web, being bullied by friends made it harder to get the school to take the situation seriously. “The bullies told everyone we were great friends and that I was the one with the problem. That really affected me as I was made to feel I was making it up, and all the pain I’d held onto for so long was brushed under the carpet.

"I think it’s really important that young peoples’ experience is validated if they do choose to speak and that they are taken seriously.”

If a friend is saying stuff that upsets you, don’t laugh it off or pretend that your feelings aren’t hurt, as this can send the signal that what they are doing is okay.

Instead, it’s worth being honest with them and telling them how you feel. If their hurtful behavior doesn’t stop, don’t be scared to cut them loose. “Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself,” says Martha.

worried looking young woman looking at screen

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullies use technology to harass their victims. You may be the victim of cyberbullying if you’re being sent mean messages online or by text. A few other common forms of cyberbullying include spreading rumours online, posting embarrassing pictures of someone without their consent or setting up hate groups.

If you’re being cyberbullied, keep the evidence. "Save or copy any photos, videos, texts, emails or posts,” says Martha. Don’t be tempted to respond, though – as with other forms of bullying, it’s best to rise above it and not risk escalating the situation.

TSR member sinfonietta shared an experience of online bullying. “A few years back there was once an anonymous blog that a group of people used to attack me and a few of my friends," she says.

"For the sake of my mental health I stopped reading it and tried to pretend it didn’t exist. I heard that it was later shut down. The hardest part was persuading my friends to stop messaging me when they saw new comments posted.

"They didn’t want to just ignore it like I did. But in the long run I found just not engaging with/reacting to/reading this content was the best approach.”

The advice given by anti-bullying organisation Kidscape is to block the bullies and checking your privacy settings to make sure that nobody can see your content who you don’t want to have access.

It’s also worth going through your followers in case there are any fake profiles on there, and making sure that you only accept followers who are people that you know in real life. Be careful also about what you send by private message.

As well as reporting cyberbullying to your school, you can also report it to the service providers. All social media platforms let you report abusive comments, as do most mobile phone networks. Some forms of cyberbullying may also be breaking the law, such as threatening messages or phone calls.

What to do if you see someone else being bullied

If you see someone else being bullied, there are things you can do to help without putting yourself in danger. While a bystander is a person who watches without intervening, Martha describes an upstander as “someone that helps people who are being bullied”.

“Bullying is something that doesn’t just stem from one person,” comments TSR member LoyaltyAb0veAll. “It is because the people around that person aren’t saying anything about their actions and hence they keep on doing it.”

“If you see someone else being bullied, check in with them at an appropriate time," says Martha. "Tell them you saw what happened and ask them if they’re okay.

"Sometimes having someone tell you that what they saw is not okay can empower them to seek help”.

Helpful resources if you’re being bullied

In addition to speaking to friends or trusted adults such as parents and teachers, there are other resources out there that can help you if you’re being bullied.

Seek support from our community of students on The Student Room forums if you’d like to be able to discuss anonymously what’s happening to you. Here are our specific forums for mental health and relationships.

If you’d like to speak to someone, you can call Childline on 0800 1111.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance offers tools and information for victims of bullying, as well as for parents and teachers.  

Ditch the Label is an anti-bullying charity that provides digital one-to-one support and has a wide range of articles and other resources to help beat bullying.

Kidscape offers advice and information for young people, families and professionals.

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