Most people probably associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with men and women who have been in battle during war or experienced a traumatic life-changing event such as 9-11.
A new study says that children who are victims of bullying can also suffer from PTSD and the effects can last into adulthood. The study, published by Thormod Idsoe, Atle Dyregrov, and Ella Cosmovici Idsoe, found that about 33 % of bullying victims suffer from PTSD. In addition, 40 to 60 % of adults who have been bullying victims suffer from high levels of the signs of PTSD as well.
PTSD can have a very disruptive effect on one’s daily living. PTSD is a mental health disorder defined by nightmares, severe anxiety, flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts about the event, and avoidance behavior.
"Pupils who are constantly plagued by thoughts about or images of painful experiences, and who use much energy to suppress them, will clearly have less capacity to concentrate on schoolwork," Idsoe said in a statement. "Nor is this usually easy to observe - they often suffer in silence."
Researchers at the University of Stavanger, in Norway, analyzed data from 963 students who were 14-15 years old. While boys were more likely to report they were being bullied, they found that girls were more likely to display PTSD symptoms.
Of the students who reported being bullied, 27.6% of boys and 40.5 % of girls had symptoms of PTSD. Researchers were not sure why some bullied children suffered from PTSD and some did not. "We...found that those with the worst symptoms were a small group of pupils who, in addition to being victims of bullying, frequently bullied fellow pupils themselves," Idsoe said. "One explanation, for example, could be that difficult earlier experiences make the sufferers more vulnerable, and they thereby develop symptoms and mental health problems more easily."
What are some of the symptoms of PTSD?
- Reliving the event over and over.
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
- Feeling numb or unable to express feelings.
- Not interested in activities or able to enjoy them.
- Feeling keyed-up or jittery. Always on the look out for dangerous situations.
Children can experience all the above symptoms or have other symptoms depending on their age.
- Children age birth to 5 may get upset if their parents are not close by, have trouble sleeping, or suddenly have trouble with toilet training or going to the bathroom.
- Children age 6 to 11 may act out the trauma through play, drawings, or stories. Some have nightmares or become more irritable or aggressive. They may also want to avoid school or have trouble with schoolwork or friends.
- Children age 12 to 18 have symptoms more similar to adults: depression, anxiety, withdrawal, or reckless behavior like substance abuse or running away.
Many schools are finally beginning to take bullying seriously. They have instituted anti-bullying programs and sometimes provide counseling - although allotted counseling time is often too short.
There are two types of treatments for PTSD, psychotherapy and medications. If your child is experiencing PTSD make sure that you find a therapist trained in pediatric PTSD therapy. PTSD can persist for years in some children and follow-up care is necessary to help your child heal and move forward.
There are also many excellent online resources for how to deal with bullies and suggestions for what to do if your child is being bullied.
The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Psychology.