Lasting Effects Of Bullying: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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If you’ve seen the effects of bullying during childhood and wondered if they can carry into adulthood, the simple answer is: They can.

And post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one real consequence of being persistently bullied as a child.

About 20 percent of students ages 12 to 18 experience bullying nationwide, according to Stopbullying.gov. Cyberbullying is the most chronic form, especially since COVID-19, which has moved children toward greater online communication and fewer in-person interactions, says Jessica Patrus, MA, LPC, a Samaritan Behavioral Health school-based therapist.

“PTSD can occur when the victim has many small instances of bullying – whether psychological or physical – over a long period of time,” Patrus says. “These feelings can escalate to self-harm or suicide thoughts in adulthood. They also can contribute to lack of trust or not feeling safe in relationships.”

She explains that PTSD generally appears soon after the trauma, not years later. However, PTSD also tends to be chronic until resolved.

“For people who don’t seek help or support, the risk is greater for developing depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation,” Patrus says.

Symptoms Of PTSD

People who have PTSD from bullying tend to have similar symptoms:

  • Persistently reexperiencing events
  • Avoidance of anything that triggers the negative events
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Panic attacks or heightened reactions to external happenings
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Destructive or risky behavior

Resolving PTSD

Counseling strategies for PTSD from bullying depend on a person’s age.

“For adults, we often do cognitive behavioral therapy, which is talk therapy to change negative feelings and thinking about self and relationships,” Patrus explains. “For children, play therapy is very helpful. Children don’t usually sit and talk, but play helps them express and process their feelings.”

Along with seeing a therapist, practicing coping skills can help. Patrus suggests:

  • Meditation and mindfulness practices
  • Yoga, for grounding yourself and practicing deep breathing
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Nurturing meaningful relationships
  • Creating a safe and supportive environment to express feelings

For children, Patrus recommends approaching a trusted adult. “This is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people can help and support you, and the sooner you address the problem, the less harm it will do.”

She advises parents to talk with their children at their level and to realize that a child may feel guilt or shame about being bullied. She further recommends seeking help from a counselor who provides trauma-informed care. This means the counselor fully considers the impact trauma may have had on a child or adult and takes steps to avoid retraumatizing the individual during therapy.

Additional Resources

Patrus recommends the Child Mind Institute, as a resource for parents, including the article “How to Arm Your Child Against Bullying.” She also suggests Teaching Tolerance to help the bullied and bullies.

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See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.