MJLH Series: Dealing with Bullying

Posted By Jessica Walsh – Oct. 29, 2012


Jessica Walsh is a second-year law student at McGill with a background in international relations, social policy and gerontology. She has worked in the field of social policy and ageing at the Public Health Agency of Canada, HelpAge International and, most recently, the World Health Organization.


A nation-wide discussion on bullying and anti-bullying strategies has dominated the Canadian media in recent weeks, in large part motivated by the tragic death of Amanda Todd, a BC teenager and cyber-bullying victim. One option to address bullying, including cyber-bullying, being considered at the moment is the introduction of anti-bullying legislation (Anti-bullying legislation has already been introduced in some provinces). Given that bullying can trigger serious health effects, the MJLH has decided to create a series of blog posts to consider bullying as a health issue and to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of addressing bullying through legislation.


Most definitions say that bullying consists of three elements: bullying is 1) repeated behaviour that 2) involves intentional attempts to hurt another person and 3) to use power over them (Canadian Public Health Association). Bullying can also be social, physical, verbal, and/or electronic (cyber) (Physical Health Problems and Bullying).

Individuals involved in bullying and victimization have been shown to have a greater chance of developing physical health problems, including headaches, stomach pain, poor appetite, and bed wetting (Physical Health Problems and Bullying). They are also at a greater risk of experiencing psychological distress and depressive symptoms, among other psychosocial health effects (Psychosocial Problems and Bullying). Moreover, children and adolescents who have been involved in both being bullied and bullying others are the most likely to experience psychosocial health difficulties (Psychosocial Problems and Bullying). This evidence establishes a clear link between bullying and the possibility of negative health repercussions.

As Canadian educators and policymakers explore options to address bullying, this blog series will ask whether law should play a role in dealing with bullying and, if so, what this role should look like. To provide a complete overview of what is at stake in this debate, we will also evaluate alternatives to anti-bullying legislation.

Check back soon for Part II, where we will outline policy options for addressing bullying.

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