A new study has found a high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among teenagers who have been bullied.
The study of 963 teens aged 14 and 15 in Norwegian schools found symptoms of the disorder in about 33 percent of the students who said they were victims of bullying — though it did not determine that these students were diagnosed with full-blown PTSD.
“This is noteworthy, but nevertheless unsurprising,” said psychologist Dr. Thormod Idsøe from the University of Stavanger (UiS) and Bergen’s Center for Crisis Psychology.
“Bullying is defined as long-term physical or mental violence by an individual or group. It’s directed at a person who’s not able to defend themselves at the relevant time. We know that such experiences can leave a mark on the victim.”
The study measured the extent of intrusive memories and avoidance behavior, two of three defined PTSD symptoms. The third, physiological stress activation, was not covered.
“Traumatic experiences or strains imposed on us by others can often hurt more than accidents,” said Idsøe. “That could be why so many pupils report such symptoms.”
The PTSD symptoms can make it difficult to concentrate and have a disruptive effect on daily life, preventing those who are bullied from functioning normally, according to the researcher.
“Pupils who’re 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,” he said. “Nor is this usually easy to observe — they often suffer in silence.”
According to the new study, girls are more likely to display PTSD symptoms than boys.
“We also 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,” he said.
The researcher noted it is to difficult to provide a definite explanation of why some groups are more likely to develop PTSD symptoms. “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,” he said.
He added that he hopes the study’s findings can help to boost awareness that a number of bullied schoolchildren may need support even after the mistreatment has ended. “In such circumstances, adult responsibility isn’t confined to stopping the bullying,” he said. “It also extends to following up the victims.”
The study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
Source: University of Stavanger