Battle Wounds of Bullying

Bullying linked to PTSD in teenagers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) More and more research is looking at the long-term harm of bullying. In some cases, severe bullying may play a part in post-traumatic stress syndrome.

A recent study in Norway looked more closely at this link. The researchers found that about a third of all bullied teens had PTSD symptoms.

They found that boys were bullied more often than girls, but girls showed higher rates of PTSD from bullying.

"Speak up when you see bullying."

The study was led by Thormond Idsoe, of the Center for Behavioral Research at the University of Stavanger in Norway. Using data form a national Norwegian study, the researchers analyzed the responses of 963 teenagers, aged 14 and 15.

They found that 28 percent of the boys who experienced bullying and 41 percent of the girls who were bullied had enough symptoms of PTSD to meet the clinical diagnosis for it. The two specific symptoms studied included experiencing intrusive memories that interfered with their lives and avoidance behavior among their peers.

The researchers found that boys were more than twice as likely to be frequently bullied than girls were. The study was limited in that the students were self-reporting their bullying experiences, so these were subjective reports.

However, bullied girls overall tended to have higher than average levels of PTSD symptoms compared to the boys who were bullied.

"Our findings support the idea that exposure to bullying is a potential risk factor for PTSD symptoms among students," the researchers wrote.

In a release about the study, Dr. Idsoe said it's just as important to follow up with a child after the bullying has ended as it is to stop the bullying in the first place.

"Although the bullying may have ended, PTSD symptoms could persist for a long time with some children," he said. "It's important to monitor how pupils develop after being bullied, and to be aware of the possibility that they might develop PTSD symptoms."

This sentiment was echoed by LuAnn Pierce, a social worker in Colorado unassociated with this study.

"I think the key finding here is that we need to follow up with those who are bullied at regular intervals to see how they are coping," Pierce told dailyRx. "Intrusive memories and avoidance behavior are not easy to cope with without professional help."

"What is important to know about PTSD is that it can be triggered again and again by often subtle memories, sights, smells, etc.," Pierce added. "Bullying intervention should include regular check-ins to ask specifically about such things and referrals for follow up with a professional recommended as needed."

The study was only able to establish a strong correlation between bullying and PTSD symptoms but did not show that the bullying caused the PTSD symptoms. It's possible the bullied teens had PTSD symptoms already, which may even have played a part in making them victims of bullying.

The research was published in the November issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Information was unavailable regarding funding. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 30, 2012
Last Updated:
December 14, 2012