The damage to the recipient's mental health and wellbeing from bullying can be significant. A recent study found that those on the receiving end of bullying often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is already recognized that PTSD can be caused by experiences that are outside the extremes of life-threatening situations. Many people are suffering from PTSD as a result of various forms of personal abuse, particularly domestic violence, sexual assault, workplace bullying, and sexual abuse. PTSD may have been caused by a single traumatic incident, or events stretching over many years.
Incidence of violence or suicide-related to bullying are gaining attention in recent years with the rise of the “Me Too” movement. The impact of bullying has intensified with the advent of mass communication bullying tools like social media, text message, and message boards. Cyberbullying is bullying seeping into the digital space, is almost impossible to escape, and the online trail lingers on for an eternity. The digital footprint of bullying is impossible to fully erase and is one of the reasons why cyberbullying is so insidious.
Bullies may resort to physical attacks, teasing, starting rumours, and excluding or publicly mocking others. The definition of "public" has grown with the advent of the Internet and social media. Now wounding words spread far beyond the reaches of the school hallway or workplace into the digital space.
Bullies often come from homes where they are abused or neglected. They may have been bullied at school and also turn around later to become perpetrators.
Bullying only becomes an offence when it occurs on more than one or two occasions. PTSD develops as the result of exposure to one particularly traumatizing even. Research now reveals that repeated exposure to traumatic experiences can also precipitate and intensify the onset of PTSD.
One study looked at 950 teens ages 14 to 15 years. The results showed that over 30 percent of bullying victims experience some degree of PTSD. 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 showed symptoms of PTSD. Only 27.6 percent of boys showed PTSD symptoms. The researchers were unable to explain or predict why some children report bullying while others don't.
Children with PTSD will relive the painful experiences over and over in their minds. They will attempt to avoid situations that 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. Repressing and suppressing these thoughts impedes their ability to concentrate on school activities and disrupts learning. Grades and school attendance suffer when a child is bullied. Mental health deteriorates, and they show signs of depression, fatigue, anger, and insomnia.
The PTSD symptoms from childhood bullying extend into adulthood for victims. One study found that adults with a childhood history of being bullied had a 40 to 60 percent risk of experiencing significant PTSD symptoms.
For many children, PTSD symptoms go away on their own after a few months. However, some children show signs for years, if they are untreated. One of the best ways to help your child overcome bullying and deal with symptoms of PTSD is to watch for warning signs such as sleeping problems, anger, and avoidance of specific people or places. Watch for changes in school performance and problems with friends.
Workplace PTSD needs to be acknowledged, and it remains a difficult topic with many workers because they are denying or repressing the impacts of trauma at work. It is common for workers to feel trapped in a bad situation at work because they need the income to support themselves and their loved ones. They see no way out and resign themselves to their fate.
For many people, the workplace is a site of bullying and abuse for their colleagues, leaders, and managers, and is not a safe place. Colleagues at work can be nasty to people they work with. The issue of bullying, abuse and harassment at work has become recognized in recent years. The psychological harm that workplace bullying causes is slowly being appreciated, but it remains rare for this damage to be understood in terms of PTSD.
It is estimated that at least one in ten people suffers from bullying at work, but not all of them go on to develop PTSD. Extrapolating from the findings of research in Norway, approximately one-third of workers may have some form of PTSD and up to 3.3% of the working population are suffering from PTSD caused by workplace bullying. This adds up to a lot of people, and a lot of time lost from work by the people suffering the debilitating consequences of PTSD. There needs to be more recognition of the problem of workplace bullying and the harm it is causing. On a positive note, the employment tribunal system is beginning to redress some of the wrongs caused by employers against their workers.
If symptoms of PTSD surface for you and do not improve, recognize that you may need to bring in outside help. Meet with a counsellor or your doctor and ask them about how PTSD is treated. Meet with several mental health professionals until you find someone who makes you and your child feel at ease.