Bullying and PTSD

Stories of violence or suicide related to bullying have gained national attention in recent years. While school bullies have been around as far back as the one room schoolhouse, the impact of bullying seems to have intensified. Even if the victim does not succumb to violence in response, the damage done can be significant. A recent study finds that those on the receiving end of bullying sometimes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Bullies often come from homes where they themselves are abused or neglected. They may have been bullied by others at school before becoming perpetrators. In any case, the child uses mental, physical or verbal unkindness as a weapon to injure others. Bullies may physically attack another, tease or start rumors, obviously exclude or publicly mock other students. The definition of public has grown with the advent of the Internet and social media. Now harmful words spread far beyond the reaches of the school hallway.

To be qualified as bullying, the offense needs to occur on more than one or two occasions. This is practically inevitable since reporting the behavior often marks the child out for future recrimination. Whereas, it was formerly believed that PTSD occurred as the result of exposure to a single traumatizing event, research now shows that repeated exposure to traumatic experiences can also precipitate the onset of PTSD.

The study look at more than 950 teens ages 14 to 15 years. Results showed that over 30 percent of bullying victims experience some degree of PTSD. While boys were most often the victims of bullying, girls were most likely to show symptoms of the condition. More than 40 percent of the girls who had been bullied exhibited symptoms of PTSD while only 27.6 percent of boys showed symptoms. The researchers were unable to explain or predict why some kids will report bullying while others do not.

Children with PTSD will re-live the painful experiences over and over in their mind. They will attempt to avoid situations which remind them of the incident. This could mean finding ways to avoid attending school altogether or staying away from activities where the child knows they will encounter the bully.

These children will spend a great amount of effort in pushing down these thoughts, but it does negatively impact their ability to concentrate on school work. Thus, a drop in grades or school attendance could signal that a child is being or has been bullied. Kids who’ve been bullied may also suddenly become depressed, tired, or angry and may have trouble sleeping at night.

The PTSD symptoms which can result from being bullied as a child may extend well into a person’s adult life. The study found that adults with a childhood history of being bullied had a 40 to 60 percent risk of experiencing significant PTSD symptoms. While the behavior may be increasing, and the potential harm has certainly increased, it is also true that attention has also risen. Schools and medical providers are alert to the dangers of bullying and parents can find helpful resources like websites and clinical support acquainted with the signs and symptoms of bullying.

There is still hope.

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