Dr Paul Downes highlights long-term damaging effects of school bullying on mental health

Dr Paul Downes highlights long-term damaging effects of school bullying on mental health

Dr. Paul Downes, Associate Professor of Psychology in DCU’s Institute of Education has highlighted the serious, sustained, long-term damaging effects of school bullying on mental health, physical health and school engagement.

Speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education at its meeting on School Bullying and the Impact on Mental Health, he emphasised that school bullying is an issue of trauma accelerating risk of anxiety, depression and self-harm and that it is an adverse childhood experience.

He called for specialist emotional counselling and therapeutic supports in schools as a serious sustained response, supports currently lacking at both primary and secondary school levels in Ireland. 

Dr. Downes extracted key psychological issues for victims of bullying according to international research, such as cycles of self-blame and self-hate as a double victimising, hopelessness, fatalism and avoidance behaviours of resignation and social withdrawal, all requiring specialised emotional counselling/therapeutic supports in schools, while also raising the need of such supports for early intervention with bullying perpetrators.

His presentation built on other key themes in the EU Commission report*. These include the need for parenting programmes and increased focus on family support services as part of school bullying prevention, and for an acceleration of emphasis on social and emotional education, against the backdrop of the new EU Key Competence for Lifelong Learning, the Personal, Social and Learning to Learn Key Competence. 

While recognising the key role of students’ voices, Dr. Downes raised legal and psychological concerns about peer defender/challenger approaches to the bullying perpetrator. He argued that as it is reasonably foreseeable that a bullying perpetrator may also victimise the peer defender, schools thereby risk negligence claims for breaching their duty of care to individual students through encouraging them into peer defender roles.

Invited presentations and submissions were also given to the Oireachtas Committee by Professor Shelley Hymel, Edith Lando Professor in Social and Emotional Learning, University of British Columbia, Vancouver and Professor Carmel Cefai, Department of Psychology and Director, Centre for Resilience and Socio-Emotional Health, University of Malta.

*Dr. Downes’ and Professor Cefai’s submissions were based on their monographs published by the European Commission: Downes, P. & Cefai, C. (2016). How to tackle bullying and prevent school violence in Europe: Evidence and practices for strategies for inclusive and safe schools. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union/EU bookshop; Cefai, C., Bartolo P. A., Cavioni. V., Downes, P. (2018). Strengthening Social and Emotional Education as a core curricular area across the EU: A review of the international evidence. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union/EU bookshop.

Dr. Downes’ opening statement and full invited submission to the Committee is published here and available to view here. See also https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40309136.html