Skip to main content
CNN.com CNN.com -- Health
ASK AN EXPERT
Got a question about a health story in the news or a health topic? Here's your chance to get an answer. Send us your questions about general health topics, diet and fitness and mental health. If your question is chosen, it could be featured on CNN.com's health page with an answer from one of our health experts, or by a participant in the CNNhealth community.




* CNN encourages you to contribute a question. By submitting a question, you agree to the following terms found below.
You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. By submitting your question, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your questions(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statment.
Thank you for your question!

It will be reviewed and considered for posting on CNNHealth.com. Questions and comments are moderated by CNN and will not appear until after they have been reviewed and approved. Unfortunately, because of the voume of questions we receive, not all can be posted.

Submit another question or Go back to CNNHealth.com

Read answers from our experts: Living Well | Diet & Fitness | Mental Health | Conditions

Expert Q&A

  • Share this on:
    Share
  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print

Can schoolyard bullying lead to PTSD?

Asked by Michelle Terry, Cutler, Ohio

Open quote
Close quote

I suffered long-term verbal abuse and bullying at school for nearly six years. Recently a friend in the mental health field suggested that some behaviors I have begun to exhibit appear to correlate strongly with PTSD. Is it possible to develop PTSD from schoolyard bullying?

Expert Bio Picture

Mental Health Expert Dr. Charles Raison Psychiatrist,
Emory University Medical School

Expert answer

Dear Michelle,

I feel for you, because I was also bullied growing up, not just at school but in the neighborhood, too. One bully in particular left a lasting impression on me. And not just on me. Recently I saw a childhood friend I hadn't seen for 30 years, and the first thing he wanted to comment on was how much he still hated, and was haunted by, this particular bully. The bully himself has spent much of his adult life in jail.

So, yes, one can develop PTSD (or post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms around all sorts of traumatic events, not just the classic ones like warfare or rape. For example, many people develop PTSD after motor vehicle accidents or after a stay in a hospital intensive care unit. There are even a couple of studies showing that bullying does indeed increase the risk of PTSD -- and that women are twice as likely to develop symptoms as are men subjected to the same traumas. Thus, anything that really shakes a person up, scares her half to death or makes her feel completely vulnerable and out of control can produce PTSD symptoms.

Although I've written about PTSD before, let me just remind folks that PTSD symptoms cluster into three large groups.

The first group revolves around re-experiencing the traumatic event, sometimes in the form of flashbacks, sometimes in the form of dreams. The second group is like a mirror image of the first and involves all sorts of attempts to avoid things that remind one of the trauma. This behavior is often linked to growing feelings of social withdrawal and a loss of a sense of being fully alive. The third group of symptoms relates to what has been called hyperarousal, which means an emotional, mental and physical tendency to drive one's flight-or-flight nervous system too hard, a classic sign of which is a tendency to startle too easily.

If you have some combination of these symptoms, you most likely are struggling with PTSD to at least some degree and would benefit from treatment.

As with psychiatric conditions in general, treatment options tend to be either psychotherapeutic or pharmacological. Researchers still debate the best type of psychotherapy for PTSD; it's a complicated and fascinating story that is too long to tell here. Even given this, I think you would be helped a great deal by finding a warm and empathic therapist to whom you could share your situation. In addition to PTSD proper, such a therapist would help you recognize and deal with the feelings of anger and shame that almost always come with having been bullied.

I still carry anger and fear toward the bully of my childhood: When I go home, I won't walk by his parent's house (where he still lives) out of fear that he'll come out and hurt me. And I tend to be more stern than I need to be with patients who try to bully others, almost certainly another legacy of my own early experience.

Antidepressants are the best studied and probably most useful agents for treating PTSD. There is no evidence that one brand is better than another, but evidence would suggest that you want to choose one that has serotonin activity, as most new antidepressants do. If your life is really being affected by the trauma of your schoolyard, I strongly recommend you see a specialist who will be better able to decide what mix of therapy and medications are most appropriate, given the details of your situation.

More Q&A

  • CNN's Medical UnitCNN's medical unit brings you the best experts available to answer your questions about current events and health issues that matter most to you.
Expert: Did 'Kony' director have 'manic episode?'asked by: By Dr. Charles Raison, Special to CNN; (CNN)
Do homeopathic treatments for ADHD work?asked by: Asked by Suzie;
Are mood swings a sign of depression?asked by: Asked by Jeffery T. Johnson; San Diego, California
Quick Job Search
keyword(s):
enter city:

CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. All comments should be relevant to the topic and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. You are solely responsible for your own comments, the consequences of posting those comments, and the consequences of any reliance by you on the comments of others. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

Home  |  World  |  U.S.  |  Politics  |  Crime  |  Entertainment  |  Health  |  Tech  |  Travel  |  Living  |  Money  |  Sports  |  Time.com
© 2014 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.