A new study from online mental health organisation ReachOut shows young people across the country are less likely to identify bullying behaviours if they’re coming from someone they consider a friend.
The report, Unfriendly Friendships, found young people struggled to label their experiences as bullyin if the anti-social behaviour came from a friend, even if it was causing them significant emotional distress.
ReachOut believes the issue is the standard perception a bully is a stranger or someone outside a person’s peer group.
The organisation says this could stop victims from seeking support or acting to stop the bullying when it occurs within their friendship circles.
CEO Ashley de Silva said education on bullying needed to include the idea a person can be bullied by their friends.
“When it comes to toxic and harmful behaviours within friendship groups, young people aren’t defining their experiences as bullying, and the strategies we offer to deal with bullying aren’t going far enough and could actually make things worse,” he said.
“A lot of good work is being done when it comes to bullying; however, we need to bolster strategies that support young people to build the skills and confidence to navigate friendship issues as well as equip parents and carers and educators to provide support, help young people deal with hurtful behaviours by friends and peers and cope.”
The report was based on two online surveys of 1000 people aged 14-25 each.
The first asked participants if they were bullied according to a standard definition of bullying, with 24.2 per cent, or nearly one in four, reporting they were.
In the second, young people were asked if they had experienced a series of behaviours typically associated with bullying and peer issues. Almost half of participants, or 46.3 per cent, self-reported they had experienced at least one of those behaviours in the past month.
The most common behaviours reported in the survey included being ignored, having someone talk about them behind their back and having rumours spread about them.
But the worst bullying behaviours were mostly online, with 73.8 per cent of people who reported receiving hateful or hurtful messages – or being cyberbullied – claiming it had a moderate to major impact on their mental health.
Being excluded online also had a moderate to major impact on the mental health of 73.7 per cent of those who reported it had happened to them – higher than the impact of physical bullying, which majorly affected 71.1 per cent of victims.
Mr de Silva said the coronavirus pandemic had exacerbated online bullying, with the eSafety Office reporting record numbers of complaints and more than 109,000 people accessing ReachOut resources to deal with friendship issues since January.