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By on September 13, 2012

New research on the health impact of being a bystander

When I think for the benefits of bystander intervention, my thoughts initially turn to the positive impact that a bystander can have for a victim (or potential victim). Recent research suggests that bystanders may experience separate and distinct health impacts that deserve attention and focus from health care professionals, parents, teachers, and support networks. In “Morbidity among bystanders of bullying behavior at school: concepts, concerns, and clinical/research issues”, Ian Rivers discusses the complexities of bystander behavior and how the social dynamics of bystander intervention can determine the long term sequele of an individual’s mental health. Rivers determined that “the mental health implications … vary according to the category or type of bystander a student becomes”, types ranging from those who support the bully or perpetrator to ones that actively fight for the rights of the victim. River’s conclusion:

It is incumbent upon schools and those who administer schools to find ways of supporting the whole educational community rather than focusing their attention upon victims and perpetrators. Post-traumatic stress, internalized hostility, substance use, and suicide ideation are issues as commonly found among witnesses as they are among victims of assault, abuse, natural disasters, or man-made events (Rivers, 2012)

What are ways in which you support a bystander not only as the intervene but after the incident?

To learn more:

Morbidity among bystanders of bullying behavior at school: concepts, concerns, and clinical/research issues.

Rivers I.

Int J Adolesc Med Health. 2011 Nov 4;24(1):11-6. doi: 10.1515/ijamh.2012.003.


School of Sport and Education, Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK. [email protected]


The role of the bystander is not one that is easily understood in the anti-bullying literature. Roles within the unofficial hierarchy of the school-yard and playground overlap considerably, and each role has its own social dynamic that brings with it a shifting behavioral landscape that affects every student. In this article, the mental health correlates of three categories of bystander are explored: the co-victim, the isolate, and the confederate. Each category of bystander has its own characterizations and mental health correlates. Reports of post-traumatic stress, internalized hostility, substance use, and suicide ideation are discussed with reference to studies involving witnesses of family abuse, community and school violence as well as bullying. It is argued that bystanders are the key to challenging bullying in schools, and their mental health and well-being is pivotal to the effectiveness of anti-bullying interventions.

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