After bullying, mentors make a difference

CMU faculty find close relationships prevent future problems

Want to help someone who's been hurt by bullying? Be a mentor.

More than one in three middle and high school students say they are victims of bullying, but people can help such victims when they reach out and connect as mentors.

Two Central Michigan University researchers have published research showing how mentoring relationships can help victims overcome related mental health difficulties and other interpersonal problems later in life.

Such mentoring relationships are low-cost interventions that can help prevent negative outcomes of bullying, said Stephanie Fredrick, one of the researchers. They often provide a sense of escape from daily stresses of life.

"Not only is bullying related to mental health problems of high school students, but the problems persist into college," she said. "Having that warm, supportive relationship is a step toward alleviating mental health problems."

It isn't like victims of bullying outright ask for a mentor, and this is why it is important for potential mentors to be perceptive and cognizant of students' actions and well-being, she said. Students dealing with bullying-related concerns are more likely to confide in a person they feel close to.

"If the student feels they are being bullied, I want them to know that I am one adult they can tell that to," Fredrick said. "We want students to just tell somebody who can then help them find the help they need."

How everyone silently is a mentor

The study specifically looked at what researchers considered "natural mentoring relationships," meaning connections bullying victims had with people beyond their immediate family and professional mentors such as a Big Brother or Big Sister.

Fredrick and fellow school psychology faculty member Daniel Drevon examined the connection between past victimization, the presence of mentors and whether the effects of bullying persist in college. Their research was published in the Journal of School Violence.

"What we were looking at is how the mentoring relationships in early adulthood protect against the development of future problems," said Drevon, who began the project during his postdoctoral teaching at CMU in 2013. "Victims of bullying who reported having natural mentors reported fewer interpersonal problems than those without a natural mentor."

Natural mentors include people such as coaches, teachers, school psychologists, supervisors and neighbors, Drevon said — people who provide opportunities for closer and more long-term relationships.

The research showed that mentoring relationships provided protection from interpersonal problems, but they did not help overcome senses of depression. Drevon said this shows that mentoring isn't the only solution, but there are further treatments to help overcome depression.

"That's a problem, but encouragingly there are things that are potentially identifiable that we can change in order to reduce some of the negative impact associated with bullying victimization," he said. "The research is needed because we need to know how to intervene, and we need to know how to prevent bullying."

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