London: There is a high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among pupils who have been bullied, a new study has found. In the study of 963 children aged 14 and 15 in Norwegian schools, these signs were seen in roughly 33 percent of respondents who said they had been victims of bullying.

"This is noteworthy, but nevertheless unsurprising," psychologist Thormod Idsoe from the Universitiy of Stavanger (UiS) and Bergen's Center for Crisis Psychology, said.

"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," Idsoe said.

The study measured the extent of intrusive memories and avoidance behaviour among pupils. These are two of three defined PTSD symptoms. The third, physiological stress activation, was not covered.

Recent research on working life has found that 40-60 percent of adult victims of bullying reveal high levels of these three defining signs.

But few national or international investigations have been conducted on the relationship between being bullied and PTSD symptoms among schoolchildren.

"Traumatic experiences or strains imposed on us by others can often hurt more than accidents," Idsoe said.
"That could be why so many pupils report such symptoms," he said.

They can cause great difficulties concentrating, have a disruptive effect and prevent sufferers from functioning normally in daily life and Idsoe has personally seen how PTSD symptoms can create problems for schoolchildren.

"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. Nor is this usually easy to observe - they often suffer in silence," he said.

The research also shows that girls are more likely to display PTSD symptoms than boys.

"That accords with studies of other types of strain," he said.

"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," Idsoe said.

He finds it difficult to provide a definite explanation of why some groups are more likely to develop PTSD symptoms, but says this question is a general issue among trauma specialists.

"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 added.

The study has been published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.


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