Pink Shirt Day 2022

By: Karina Thiessen (BA, BEd), Masters student in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia

Today marks Anti-Bullying Day, otherwise known as “Pink Shirt Day.” This day falls on the last Wednesday of February each year. Both bullying and victimization during childhood are risk factors for mental health and substance use disorders, speaking to the harmful long-term effects of bullying and the need for early intervention.1–3

How did Pink Shirt Day Begin?

The movement began with a group of high school students in Nova Scotia in 2007. A teenage boy was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. To show solidarity with the bullied individual, David Sheppard and Travis Price, senior students at the boy’s school, rallied their classmates together to wear pink to school the next day. They became the co-founders of Pink Shirt Day and since then, the movement has rapidly spread across the globe, with people wearing pink shirts as a symbol against bullying.4,5 

While wearing a pink shirt isn’t going to single-handedly stop bullying, Pink Shirt Day provides an opportunity for us to reflect on what bullying means and how we can prevent and intervene in cases of bullying. 

Defining “Bullying”

Common definitions emphasize three critical hallmarks of bullying:6,7

  1. There is an intent to harm the opposite party
  2. The behaviour is repeated
  3. There is a power imbalance such that it is difficult for a person to defend themselves from bullying. 

A power imbalance may not necessarily be obvious. However, power imbalances can exist in a wide range of areas, including physical appearance, race/ethnicity, between siblings, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental (dis)ability, physical size, academic achievement (both high and low achievement can be targeted for bullying), language ability, accent, developmental stage, social groups or social abilities (e.g., having more friendships), socioeconomic status, housing, clothing, classroom (e.g., where classes are grouped by ability), or special education program enrollment. We see higher rates of bullying victimization in under-represented, under-resources, or otherwise marginalized groups, such as some LGBTQA+ populations and ethnic minorities.

Sadly, while many people are able to define bullying when asked, most people fail to recognize bullying behaviours as such. Many children that are bullied report that adults/authority figures were not aware or did not sufficiently intervene.

Bullying behaviours can include physical, verbal, and social bullying.7 More specifically, it can involve:

  1. Physical aggression or threats
  2. Putting down others or “teasing”
  3. Social exclusion of others
  4. Gossiping or misrepresenting others
  5. Threats
  6. Intolerance of difference
  7. Coercion or manipulation
  8. Online bullying and harassment
  9. Sexual harassment

Signs of victimization of bullying can include:

  1. Trying to “laugh off” insulting comments or claim that they “don’t care” what other people think
  2. Social isolation
  3. Low self-esteem or self-deprecation
  4. Avoidance of particular people, situations/environments
  5. Retaliation
  6. Anger or frustration
  7. Anxiety
  8. Lack of sleep
  9. Lack of focus

Keep in mind that the term “bullying” does not always clearly communicate the severity of the behaviour. Bullying can contribute to victim suicidality and can reach criminal levels.

Prevention and Intervention

While Pink Shirt Day is a fantastic way to celebrate kindness and reflect on how we can better prevent and intervene in cases of bullying, we need further action to evoke change.

A critical piece in preventing bullying is to establish equitable environments in which kindness is the norm and everyone is heard, recognized, and valued. When intervention is required, I recommend involving and consulting parents/guardians, teachers, school counsellors/psychologists, paraprofessionals, and/or other mental health professionals (e.g., child and family therapists) in the process.

As a former teacher and somebody that has worked with children and families for many years, I have seen firsthand how bullying dynamics can be notably complex and challenging to resolve. Many factors can contribute to, exacerbate, or result from bullying and victimization. Fortunately, research shows that bullying interventions can effectively reduce bullying behaviour and victimization. There is currently no evidence of the harmful effects of these interventions.8,9 

Interventions can include anti-stigma interventions, social skills training, therapy/counselling, and classroom learning engagements and practices. These interventions can reduce both bullying behaviour and the risk of victimization through promoting acceptance, self-esteem, emotional regulation, and effective interpersonal skills.10,11 

Books are often great resources for children to understand bullying, develop empathy, and explore complex social-emotional concepts. There are many children’s book lists about bullying and social-emotional learning available online. TV shows and play can also be avenues for teaching and developing social-emotional wellness and skills. 

As adults, we also need to consider how we are modelling behaviour in the “adult world.” Where does bullying occur in our environments? Do we create equity? Do we support others? Are we accepting of differences and mistakes?  Discrimination and workplace bullying are realities for many adults and can lead to negative health, personal, and professional outcomes.12–14

Future Directions

While interventions for bullying exist, some suggest that interventions focusing on social and systemic factors, beyond the perpetrator-victim conceptualizations, will allow for a more broadly-reaching approach.15 Applying a social-ecological model can help us to better understand and address bullying.7 Interventions that incorporate children’s voices and agency are also needed.16 Importantly, interventions to prevent bullying and training in effective responses must be adaptable and sustainable.17

Further research is needed to determine what works and what can be improved on in current interventions. For example, research examining the relationship between bullying, bullying victimization, and intersectional identities will help us to better understand how particular groups of individuals are at-risk for bullying or victimization.15,18,19 Special attention to middle- and lower-income populations is also needed.20 


Many websites provide support and resources on bullying and social-emotional learning. These are just some resources:



  1. Lee J, Hong JS, Resko SM, Tripodi SJ. Face-to-Face Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Multiple Forms of Substance Use Among School-Age Adolescents in the USA. School Mental Health. 2018;10(1):12-25. doi:10.1007/S12310-017-9231-6/TABLES/4
  2. Zsila Á, Orosz G, Király O, et al. Psychoactive Substance Use and Problematic Internet Use as Predictors of Bullying and Cyberbullying Victimization. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. 2018;16(2):466-479. doi:10.1007/S11469-017-9809-0/TABLES/3
  3. Quinn ST, Stewart MC. Examining the Long-Term Consequences of Bullying on Adult Substance Use. American Journal of Criminal Justice. 2018;43(1):85-101. doi:10.1007/S12103-017-9407-5/TABLES/2
  4. History – Pink Shirt Day. Accessed February 16, 2022.
  5. About Us — Pink Shirt Day. Accessed February 16, 2022.
  6. Aalsma MC, Brown JR. What Is Bullying? Journal of Adolescent Health. 2008;43(2):101-102. doi:10.1016/J.JADOHEALTH.2008.06.001
  7. Menesini E. Translating knowledge into interventions: An ‘individual by context’ approach to bullying. 2019;16(3):245-267. doi:10.1080/17405629.2018.1564273
  8. Luiz Da Silva J, Abadio De Oliveira W, Zequinão MA, et al. Results from Interventions Addressing Social Skills to Reduce School Bullying: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Trends in Psychology. 2018;26(1):509-522. doi:10.9788/TP2018.1-20PT
  9. Fraguas D, Diáz-Caneja CM, Ayora M, et al. Assessment of School Anti-Bullying Interventions: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Pediatrics. 2021;175(1):44-55. doi:10.1001/JAMAPEDIATRICS.2020.3541
  10. Sapouna M, Wolke D, Vannini N, et al. Virtual learning intervention to reduce bullying victimization in primary school: a controlled trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2010;51(1):104-112. doi:10.1111/J.1469-7610.2009.02137.X
  11. Tsiantis ACJ, Beratis IN, Syngelaki EM, et al. The Effects of a Clinical Prevention Program on Bullying, Victimization, and Attitudes toward School of Elementary School Students: 2017;38(4):243-257. doi:10.1177/019874291303800406
  12. Vargas SM, Huey SJ, Miranda J. A critical review of current evidence on multiple types of discrimination and mental health. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 2020;90(3):374-390. doi:10.1037/ORT0000441
  13. Misawa M, Andrews JL, Jenkins KM. Women’s experiences of workplace bullying: A content analysis of peer-reviewed journal articles between 2000 and 2017. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. 2019;31(4):36-50. doi:10.1002/NHA3.20263
  14. Hollis LP. Bullied Out of Position: Black Women’s Complex Intersectionality, Workplace Bullying, and Resulting Career Disruption. Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships. 2018;4(3):73-89. doi:10.1353/BSR.2018.0004
  15. Haines-Saah RJ, Hilario CT, Jenkins EK, Ng CKY, Johnson JL. Understanding Adolescent Narratives About “Bullying” Through an Intersectional Lens: Implications for Youth Mental Health Interventions: 2016;50(5):636-658. doi:10.1177/0044118X15621465
  16. O’Higgins Norman J. Tackling Bullying from the Inside Out: Shifting Paradigms in Bullying Research and Interventions. International Journal of Bullying Prevention 2020 2:3. 2020;2(3):161-169. doi:10.1007/S42380-020-00076-1
  17. Bradshaw CP. Translating research to practice in bullying prevention. American Psychologist. 2015;70(4):322-332. doi:10.1037/A0039114
  18. Morales DX, Grineski SE, Collins TW. School bullying, body size, and gender: an intersectionality approach to understanding US  children’s bullying victimization. 2019;40(8):1121-1137. doi:10.1080/01425692.2019.1646115
  19. Barnhart WR, Angoff HD. Bullying and cyberbullying among LGBQ and heterosexual youth from an intersectional perspective: Findings from the 2017 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. doi:10.31219/OSF.IO/E8C62
  20. Sivaraman B, Nye E, Bowes L. School-based anti-bullying interventions for adolescents in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior. 2019;45:154-162. doi:10.1016/J.AVB.2018.07.007