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December 17 is Anti-Bullying day, for this occasion A & O: Support Services for Older Adults and the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse are teaming up to announce an Anti-Bullying Campaign to help raise awareness of bullying of older adults.

In a recent Canadian study, the preliminary reports identified that 57% of English speaking older adult respondents reported being bullied in the last 4 months.

Traditionally, bullying awareness and prevention activities have been aimed at younger generations, even though bullying occurs across the life course and in areas where people congregate regularly. Minimal research has been done to understand the full prevalence of bullying among older adults, although there have been countless stories identifying conflicts in groups of older adults (either living together in a facility, or gathering on a regular basis).

Bullying (can also be seen as “harassment”) happens when a person or a group of people hurts, threatens, or scares a peer, either on purpose or unintentionally. Bullying is usually a repeated pattern of behaviours. People who experience bullying often have a difficult time defending themselves. With older adults, the underlying causes of bullying may be impacted by:

  • Loneliness and social isolation
  • Compounded losses (e.g. loss of: loved ones, family home, home community, independence, and changes in mobility, etc.)
  • Changes in mental health and well-being

Bullied older adults may experience social/emotional distress, self-harming behaviours, physical injury, depression/anxiety, sleep difficulties, isolation, lower self-esteem, and functional changes. People who’ve witnessed bullying may feel guilty for not intervening, experience a decrease in self-worth, reduced satisfaction with living environment or social program, and lose confidence in the ability of the facility/organization to protect them against bullying (leading to fear and disrespect). People who bully may be experiencing low self-esteem, a loss of control over one or more parts of their life, and are struggling to maintain some sense of control or power.  

Creating a supportive community environment, where people are comfortable identifying and challenging bullying behaviours, is vital to the overall health and quality of life for older Canadians. This can include:

  • Having clear guideline for facility/organization code of conduct and ways to address bullying behaviours
  • Teaching strategies to de-escalate situations to organization staff and participants/facility residents
  • Signage to promote kindness, civility, and the importance of inclusion
  • Communication that common spaces in buildings should be welcoming and safe for everyone
  • Increasing education and awareness through speakers, poster campaigns, discussion groups, etc.

Even with guidelines and supports in place, it can be difficult for some to navigate social situations. There are organizations in Manitoba that can help people that are struggling with bullying in social circles.

By increasing awareness of bullying and providing education, supports, and resources to prevent bullying, we can help older adults can live healthier, happier lives. This is why A&O and CNPEA are working together to start the discussion on December 17, and will be launching a larger campaign on Pink Shirt Day (February 26, 2020).  Stay tuned.


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