55 per cent of children who have been bullied develop depression – with more than one in three becoming suicidal or self-harming as a result, according to a Europe-wide poll released today.
Yet despite the scale of suffering, one in three adults view bullying as a routine rite of passage, and 16 per cent describe it as "character-building".
The shocking statistics have provoked calls for urgent action, with more than 100,000 people joining a campaign by the BeatBullying charity calling on the European Commission to introduce new laws to protect children from bullying and cyberbullying.
This comes after an inquest in May heard how a British teenager walked into the sea to drown after suffering cyberbullying over Facebook.
Callum Moody-Chapman, 17, from Cumbria, had been sent online threats by a former friend who was going out with his ex-girlfriend. The 17-year-old boy threatened to beat him, set fire to his home and encourage friends "to stamp on your head". A verdict of suicide into the youngster’s death last December was recorded by the coroner, who cited the abusive messages as “by far the most significant aspect of this case”.
Attitudes need to change if such tragedies are to be prevented, according to campaigners.
Emma-Jane Cross, chief executive of BeatBullying, said: “Far too many European citizens still see bullying as ‘part of growing up’ and don’t take it seriously. This is pushing young people to the brink with some even resorting to harming themselves in order to cope.”
She added: “How many more children have to tragically lose their lives before these outdated perceptions change? Today more than 100,000 children, families, schools and charitable organisations are sending the European Commission a clear message that enough is enough. We urge them to listen.”
And Sarah Crown, editor of Mumsnet, one of the organisations backing the protest, commented: "These figures demonstrate once again why bullying ought not to be treated as 'part and parcel' of growing up. It's a serious matter that can result in severe consequences for the victim.”
Little Mix, Amanda Holden, JLS singer Aston Merrygold, and reality TV star Jamie Laing from Made in Chelsea are among the names supporting the campaign. Leigh Anne of Little Mix said: “Myself and the girls have all experienced being bullied at some point in our life, when we see on Twitter that some of our fans are going through it now we find it so upsetting, and that's the reason we feel so passionate about this campaign.”
And the effects on victims can be long-lasting. For childhood bullying can continue to damage mental and physical health for decades afterwards, causing higher rates of depression, ill health and unemployment in adult life, according to a study by researchers from Kings College London published earlier this year.