Black student bullying Latino student, pushing him again wall while girl watches

Bullying Prevention: How to Beat the Bystander Effect and Be an Ally

The bystander effect may not seem like a big deal, but it hinders progress in bullying prevention and highlighting mental illness. Here's how to stop it.

Today is World Mental Health Day, and October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Since the two often go hand-in-hand, it’s important to talk about them at the same time. But something we don’t talk about enough when we discuss mental health issues and bullying is the bystander effect. The bystander effect is a psychological event that means individuals are less likely to help a person who is typically in danger when there are large groups of people around. For example, if someone has a heart attack in the middle of a crowded street and no one knows the person, no single person feels directly responsible to step up because there are so many people around to help. There’s another psychological term called “pluralistic ignorance” where people, or bystanders, will internally dismiss something because of what everyone else around them is doing, which in many cases is nothing. So how can we stop ourselves from falling victim to the bystander effect, and what can we do to help?

Be observant

Sometimes things happen so fast around us that we don’t fully understand them until they’re over. Being aware of your surroundings isn’t only important for your safety (like looking both ways before you cross the street), but it helps you look out for other people as well. Pay attention! Take note when your friend makes a worrisome joke that might hint toward something wrong. Also take note when someone is being bullied. So many things happen around us every day, you never know how much being observant can help you and those around you.

Related: Mental Health: What It Is and How You Can Find Help

Don’t be afraid to speak up 

When someone is being treated unjustly, it can be uncomfortable for everyone, and it can be scary to do something about it. Sometimes all that person needs is for someone to stick up for them and stop validating the bully for mistreating them—because that’s exactly what inaction does. Even if you don’t feel comfortable putting yourself in the middle of that situation, find a time to talk to that person one-on-one. Remember: the worst thing you can do is nothing.

Practice empathy

We’ve all been empathetic before, like when we cringe because something embarrassing happened to our favorite character on a TV show or when we cry during those sad animal rescue commercials. The truth is, we feel empathetic all the time whether we realize it or not, but just because we feel it all the time doesn’t mean it's something we can’t get better at. Do things that can make someone’s day better, like helping your friends and those around you when they need it. Listen to what those around you have to say, and try your best to withhold judgment. Talking about some things can be scary, so try to be understanding of their situation. Everyone’s emotions are valid. We can reduce our vulnerability to the bystander effect by putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and thinking about how they might want us to help.

Related: Expectations vs. Reality: College With Mental Illness

Think about how you can help

You don’t always have to impulsively insert yourself into a bad situation. You can help people in other ways, like inviting them to eat lunch with you and your friends. Sometimes the best thing is to talk to a trusted adult to express your concerns and see what their advice is. If the situation is more serious and you think this person might have suicidal thoughts, you can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). Calls to the organization are routed to a center in your area to give you the best resources possible. For more information on how to act, visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. Remember, every situation is different, and the best thing to do isn’t always obvious or easy, but it’s what needs to be done.

Related: Why It's Crucial to Care for Your Mental Health in College

You are likely not the only person who wants to act but is scared to. Chances are that everyone around you wants to act, but they just don’t know how to. Don’t let fear discourage you from helping someone. Let your compassion and empathy overpower that. All it takes is one person saying or doing something to cause a chain reaction that could ultimately make a person’s life better.  As cliché as it sounds, you can always be the one to make a change. You can be the one who gets someone the help they need to survive. You can be the one to create a safe space for someone who has never been given one. Don’t let yourself become yet another victim of the bystander effect.

If you want to learn the basics of mental health to be a more informed ally to those in need, check out our article A General Guide to Mental Health Awareness for Students.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

About Tayler Butters

Tayler Butters

Tayler Butters is a high school student with a passion for music, photography, and writing. She loves spending her time in church and with her golden retriever, Lilly.

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Alexandria

Alexandria

High School Class of 2021

For a long time, I've been searching everywhere to find the perfect website I can get scholarships and information from. Needless to say, I could never find the right one. That was, until I found CollegeXpress. Through my journey of finding the right scholarships for me, I was able to find articles about different things. They've all been helpful, especially in times like this! I was even able to connect with some of my favorite colleges! I love CollegeXpress. Thank you!

Yuhlani Patterson

Yuhlani Patterson

High School Student

CollegeXpress has helped me find so many scholarships that fit me. They match me to colleges I have specific interest in to make searching for colleges way easier and more efficient. CollegeXpress refers me to schools that have my major of interest and backup schools if I want to change my mind. CollegeXpress also gives out their own scholarships, so you have even more of a chance at gaining multiple scholarships. This website has helped me de-stress from the pressure of not being able to afford college, [of finding] what schools are right for me, and how to find easy access to scholarships that most people never knew existed.

Hannah Nelsen

Hannah Nelsen

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me look at colleges that fit my interests by taking my profile and matching it to colleges that have the programs I'm looking for. It has the ability to connect me to colleges so I can be contacted by them and look at them more in-depth to find what's right for me. Additionally, the scholarship database is super beneficial for getting scholarships for college. Not only does it help lift the financial burden of college but it shows all the opportunities available. Overall, CollegeXpress has been very helpful to me.

Josiah Kegg

Josiah Kegg

High School Class of 2021

I want to sincerely thank you all for this amazing website that's legitimately helped me find so many different scholarship opportunities. I've been stressing out for the longest time about paying for college since I would rather stay out of debt and have been working days trying to find any scholarship opportunity. When I found CollegeXpress, I discovered many easy scholarships that have given me hope for the future. Thank you and God bless!

Ruth Aguilar

Ruth Aguilar

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me by providing me with many scholarship opportunities and information about universities I want to attend. What I love about CollgeXpress is how it provides a variety of information, and as the first child attending a university next year, it has been very essential and helpful. I’m so grateful for this because the information provided by CollegeXpress has also helped me see that there are so many college opportunities, and it always informs me by email. In other words, CollegeXpress has been like a guide for me as a future college student.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Vermont State University

Randolph Center, VT

Bryant University

Smithfield, RI

Miami University

Oxford, OH