According to research by Beatbullying, the UK bullying prevention charity, around half of you reading this article are either experiencing bullying or have been bullied at some stage of your life.

Further statistics don’t make for any better reading. Each week around 450,000 students are being bullied at school and a further 500,000 are being bullied outside of the classroom within their local communities. Even more seriously, at least 20 young people every year commit suicide as a result of being bullied.

“Bullying is a universal problem,” says Richard Piggin, communications manager at Beatbullying. “There’s no age limit, or boundaries based on someone’s sex or background; anyone, can be a target of bullying.”

Another concern is that it seems anyone can become a bully too, and for a number of different reasons. “Usually a bully wants to feel powerful, and making someone feel scared or small is one way of doing that” explains Piggin. “Perhaps because they have been bullied themselves, they want to take their frustration and anger out on somebody else.

“Some people bully because they think it makes them look popular; they feel pressured into doing it by other young people. We did a survey of young people who admitted to being the bully, and some of them said they did it first so it wouldn’t happen to them.”

Bullying can also take a variety of different forms. It can be verbal, physical, emotional or psychological: spreading rumours or deliberately excluding somebody from a group, for example. Abuse can be racist, homophobic or sexual in nature and, increasingly, isn’t necessarily something that happens face to face: text messages, e-mails, chat rooms and social networking sites are other arenas that are increasingly being utilised.

So far so serious, but it’s important to clarify that bullying is not a subject that should be treated lightly and one that should be brought out into the open and discussed. Individuals who are affected by bullying should also resist the temptation to keep quiet about it.

“The advice we always give is to tell someone,” says Piggin. “Crucially, it doesn’t have to be a parent, it doesn’t have to be a teacher or course leader, it can just be somebody that you trust. Ideally it should be someone who is in a position to help stop the bullying but it doesn’t have to be. It can be your best friend, just don’t try and deal with it alone; tell someone and they can help you.

“You can also write it down, perhaps send a letter. That way you’ve got a more evidence-based case too, and it’s the same with texts and e-mails: if you do get them, don’t reply but save them or print them out so you’ve got proof of what’s happening.”