Silent Scars : The Devastating impact of Bullying

Help and Support, March 29, 2024

Aotearoa has some of the worst bullying, mental health, and suicide statistics in the developed world. We need to raise awareness, foster empathy, and create an environment to combat this pervasive issue in our society.

Bullying is a toxic behaviour that has far reaching negative consequences for all of society. An international study published in The Lancet (2020) looked at data from 220,000 students between the ages of 12-15years in 83 countries and found that bullying causes suicidal behaviour in more than 1 out of 8 young people.  Aotearoa, New Zealand has the 2nd worst record in terms of bullying behaviour in the OECD. We need to start changing the way we deal with this damaging behaviour; Finland may have some answers.

Helsinki introduced an anti-bullying school programme in December 2020 named KVO-13 which consists of 13 anti-bullying guidelines ranging from organisations working together to come up with rules to prevent bullying, through to support structures for those who have experienced bullying. Effective ways to deal with bullies includes  setting boundaries in a calm manner and everyone working together to eradicate the  behaviour

An excellent piece of advice for dealing with bullies comes from an earlier anti bullying plan created by the Finnish Ministry of education & culture -

“Be assertive communicate with your whole body that you will not except bad treatment. Stand tall look the bully in the eye and speak with a clear voice that what you are experiencing feels bad and it should stop immediately. It can work as the first step to stop that situation. If possible act like you don’t care try to walk away from the situation and go tell someone about the situation. Every bullying situation is different and there is not a single right solution. These all are just suggestions. You can try to do by yourself it is important to tell someone about bullying - don’t keep it to yourself. “

The Finnish public school system has been studied by other countries as Finnish students outperform their peers, even is schools that are stricter and with far more teaching hours. Children start school at 7 years old, have shorter days, and more active time than kids in most other countries. For every 45min of instruction there is 15min of outdoor movement encouraged. Finnish kids have high literacy rates and learn outside the box skills like how to spot disinformation.

Education is free (there are high taxes to fund this) with equal access to all. It is illegal to have private schools so all socioeconomic classes mix together and the rich ensure that the education is of a high standard, benefiting all children.  “The strength of society is not measured by the wealth of its most affluent members but by how well its most vulnerable cope” Sanna Marin, Finnish prime minister 2020.

Equality is a strong value with the anti - bullying program. The whole of society is responsible for stepping in and speaking out which makes sense as bullying has far reaching negative effects. One of the key creators of the KVO-13 program is psychologist Vesa Nevalainen who has vast experience in the anti-bullying space with many books authored on the topic. This includes “Unpleasant People: How to cope with difficult types” and “Enough Already : Getting rid of bullying and bullies” The KVO -13 program is linked to social emotional learning (SEL) which is taught as a subject. This is a methodology that helps students to better understand and manage their emotions.  Professor Sigal Barsade stated “If you are not using emotions you're playing with one hand tied behind your back." Finland is giving its young people the best chance to fulfill promise by teaching that emotions don’t have to be directives but data to help navigate actions, and not be controlled by them.

A pillar of the anti-bullying approach is based on the idea that how a society treats its weakest members is a measure of its humanity and civilisation.

Why do people bully?

The most common reasons is anger, fear, and envy. Anger will be expressed through insults that are projections of the bullies insecurities, fear, self doubt, or jealousy onto others. They may be trying to exert power over other people as they feel a loss of power or control.

It’s been well documented that being different will threaten some people. If others are outside the perceived norm then it can feel like a threat to some who live within rigid societal expectations.

Practical Tips
  • Limit contact and don’t engage
  • Don’t try to convince them to see things from your perspective.
  • Don’t personalise even if attacked personally
  • Keep communication to matters at hand. Don’t take the conflict bait.
  • Remember bullies behaviour is born out of fear, self doubt, anger, and envy.
  • Move towards supportive caring people.
  • Always tell others about bullying- not just for your sake but for others. Bullying begets bullying- when unchecked this toxic behaviour proliferates and festers

Teaching children to be resilient and negotiate challenges rather than installing a victim mentality is very important during this process. A simple example is talking about taking a deep breath when upset and giving space before choosing the next action rather than letting emotions take you down a reactive pathway. Being proactive is a great way to build collective Sisu. This is the key in helping ourselves and others. We are all connected, and we are all in this together.


Everyday Sisu - Tapping into finish fortitude for a happier, more resilient life (2022) by Katja Pantzar, author of The Finish Way.

Working with the body. Can it really talk? Dr. Suzanne Henwood presentation at Conference March 26 2024


For Physiotherapy, Coaching, my book 'Holistic Human', Training Plans, YouTube, FREE recipes, 

Connect below