Bullying effects comparable to violence and abuse

Bullying effects comparable to violence and abuse

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Post-traumatic stress disorder due to bullying

Physical and sexual violence often cause mental damage such as post-traumatic stress disorder. But violence has many facets. The German Association of Occupational Therapists points out that victims of bullying can develop mental disorders similar to those of physical violence.

Christine Spevak is a trauma expert at the German Association of Occupational Therapists (DVE). Together with her colleague Andreas Pfeiffer, she translated the Canadian occupational therapy program "Post-traumatic stress disorders" into German. In a press release, the team highlighted the often underestimated consequences of bullying on the psyche of the victims.

Bullying on the rise

The 2015 Pisa study shows that every sixth schoolchild is affected by bullying. But adults can also be affected, because bullying at work is also widespread. Through cyberbullying, discrimination against a person reaches a level that can drive victims to suicide. "It is not just people from war zones or times of war, but also adults and children who live here in our society and experience or see traumatic things in their everyday lives," reports occupational therapist Spevak.

Trauma can have many triggers

From her experience with those affected, Spevak knows that trauma can have very different triggers. For example, a car accident, a serious illness, a death, domestic violence, abuse and even bullying can cause severe traumatic damage to a person's psyche. Some people manage this situation on their own. However, other people are completely helpless at the events.

Bullying is comparable to sexual abuse

As a comparison, the trauma expert names children who have been victims of abuse. "From their point of view, the situation is hopeless: the perpetrator puts them under pressure, suggests that no one will believe them or that they are to blame for what happens to them," explains Spevak. Victims of bullying are often similar. They feel unable to act, remain silent out of shame and cannot admit that they are unable to free themselves from the dilemma.

Behavior changes in bullying victims

Since victims of bullying often keep silent about being bullied, it is particularly important for family and friends not to ignore changes in behavior. According to DVE experts, traumatized people often aim to avoid situations in which they are frequently bullied. As a result, the victims withdraw, avoid certain activities, for example no longer want to go to school for work or to a sports club. Furthermore, many victims of bullying are reluctant to talk about their feelings or react overemotionally. "Such behaviors are alarming and it can be assumed that the trauma has not been processed - time to seek professional help," recommends the DVE team.

Break out of the vicious cycle

Therapy should promote the self-efficacy of traumatized people. Experiencing one's own strengthened ability to act provides a positive contrast to what had to be endured in the trauma. According to DVE, this important step can help to overcome trauma. But the environment also plays an important role. "The situation is difficult and stressful for relatives and partners who live with a traumatized person," says the occupational therapist. It is important to include close relatives and life partners in the therapy. Through understanding and appreciation, but also through joint activities to free those affected from isolation, one can assist the victims in overcoming a trauma. It is important to allow those affected their own pace. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • German Association of Occupational Therapists (DVE): Bad bullying can lead to trauma as well as physical violence and abuse (accessed: November 6th, 2019),
  • German Bundestag - Scientific Services: Bullying in schools, 2018,

Video: How Childhood Trauma Can Make You A Sick Adult. Big Think. Big Think (May 2022).