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27 November 2020

Mondia Health

Bullying lasts beyond the moment

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Bullying is something we all remember from school. Maybe we were lucky, and we were not the ones that were bullied, but that does not mean it did not affect us. We saw it, we feared it, we consciously avoided falling onto the radar of the bully. And we remember.

I have heard, over the years, so many people say that they just do not understand why people make such a fuss over bullying. It is a school thing, kids will be kids, we should just let them hash it out. After all, it builds character when they learn to stand up for themselves. Funny how no mention is ever made of what is to become of the bullies, but that is another blog.

In answer to the questioning crowd about why stopping bullying and counselling both the victim and the bully is crucial; why campaigns to end bullying is as not an option but a necessity: it is because the consequences of bullying lasts. Beyond the time that that actual bullying ends, the effects last into later years, even into adulthood. Worse still, is that we live in a society that revictimizes a victim of bullying when later they recall the bullying with pain or respond in a manner that they were unconsciously conditioned to behave because of bullying. The victim is often denounced with an exasperated “But you should be over it by now, it happened years ago!”

In reality, bullying has a lasting impact. Victims often experience, among other symptoms, anxiety, fear, nightmares, insomnia, and depression. However, because these experiences take place in a situation where the victim feels vulnerable, powerless, and unable to defend themselves, it can lead to stress-related conditions like PTSD. In fact, recent research shows a direct link between bullying and PTSD.

What Is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that develops after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. It is a persistent, long-term concern known for symptoms that include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety.

Though anyone can develop PTSD, triggering factors such as the degree of the perceived threat, the relationship to the bully and the level of support available can make it more likely. These are of particular concern with school bullying. A child who is bullied at school cannot simply leave the situation. This may cause feelings of helplessness which can be exacerbated if the child seeks assistance from an adult who then do not respond appropriately or, as in some cases, it is the teacher or other adult doing the bullying. The longer the child is exposed to the trauma, the more likely he or she is to develop PTSD.

While most of the reading about bullying and the link to PTSD available online refers to childhood/school bullying, bullying is a very real problem to mental health among adults as well – and not only as a hold-over of unresolved childhood trauma due to bullying. The same triggering factors as mentioned above exists in adult situations, most commonly and notably in working environments.

Symptoms of PTSD in children and teenagers that parents and caregivers need to look out for include:

  • Avoiding situations that make them recall the trauma
  • Nightmares or flashbacks about the trauma
  • Repeating the bullying in play, or playing in a way that recalls the trauma
  • Acting impulsively or aggressively
  • Frequently displaying nervousness or anxiousness
  • Displaying emotional numbness
  • Difficulty focussing at school

Symptoms of PTSD to be aware of in adults include:

  • Intense feelings of distress when reminded of the traumatic event
  • Extreme physical reactions to reminders of the traumatic event such as a nausea, sweating or an increase in heartrate
  • Invasive, upsetting memories of the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks (reliving the traumatic event)
  • Nightmares (whether about the traumatic event or other terrifying situations)
  • Loss of interest in life and daily activities
  • Feeling emotionally numb and detached from other people
  • Sense of a not leading a normal life
  • Avoiding certain activities, feelings, thoughts, or places that can serve as reminders of the traumatic event
  • Difficulty remembering important aspects of the traumatic event

If you, or your child, has experienced any traumatic life event, including bullying, please speak to a mental health expert. Early intervention is crucial to preventing any potential long-term effects of such tragic experiences.

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