Bullying and PTSD

Most people associate posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) with combat veterans and military experience. However many more individuals experience PTSD and for so many more reasons. One of these potential causes of PTSD is experiencing bullying at school.

But experiencing bullying at school is a possible cause of this condition. If you or a loved one has been bullied and shows symptoms of PTSD in response, then seek professional help as soon as possible.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing, witnessing or learning of a traumatic event, especially if that event produces intense feelings of fear and helplessness. PTSD is a persistent, long-term mental health concern. This differentiates it from shorter-lived anxiety and stress such as acute stress disorder.

PTSD is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Reliving the event or the associated emotions and fears
  • Nightmares and other sleep disturbances
  • Avoiding reminders of the event
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Hyperarousal
  • Irritability
  • Increased startle response

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms or even ones not listed here, don’t think you haven’t experienced “enough” trauma or couldn’t be struggling with PTSD. If you have lived through a scary, difficult or challenging time of life, the effects can be long-lasting.

How Bullying Can Trigger PTSD

Anyone can develop PTSD, but some triggers and factors make it more likely. Psychology Today explains that degree of perceived threat, relationship to the perpetrator and level of support available influence PTSD development in childhood.1 Bullies make children afraid to go to school or interact outside of school. Children may feel afraid for their personal safety, and they are certainly not feeling supported by peers. If bullying reports go ignored, children may also feel they have no support from teachers, parents or other authority figures.

PTSD is more likely to develop if the trauma produces feelings of helplessness. This can easily be a factor in cases of school bullying. If bullying happens at school, a child can’t simply leave the situation. Feelings of helplessness can increase if the child seeks assistance from adults who do not respond appropriately or if it is a teacher or adult who is doing the bullying. Bullies may also target a child for weeks, months or even years. The longer a child is exposed to trauma, the more likely he or she is to experience PTSD.

Overall there is a close relationship between PTSD and bullying. The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found that among bullied children, “27.6% of the boys and 40.5% of the girls had scores within the clinical range [for PTSD].”2 This PTSD may develop in childhood and linger through to adulthood, or it may not even surface until years later.

Help Treating PTSD

PTSD is a serious condition. Bullying can leave children afraid, angry, depressed or anxious. These symptoms can continue on into adulthood or transform into other mental health or substance use disorders. Call The Oaks to learn more about treating PTSD, addiction and any co-occurring mental or physical health concerns.

By Alanna Hilbink

Sources:
1 Babbel, Susanne. “The Lingering Trauma of Child Abuse.” Psychology Today. 24 Apr. 2011.
2 Idose, T, et al. “Bullying and PTSD Symptoms.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Aug. 2012.