Can bullying lead to a greater risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Joyce Chen ’23

Figure 1: Bullying is a common occurrence in schools, workplaces, and online. Researchers speculate that experiencing bullying may increase the likelihood of developing PTSD later in life.

Bullying is when one individual exerts control over another through physical or verbal aggression. It is a widespread problem in the school, work, and online settings in the United States. A plethora of research has been done on the negative effects of bullying on the victims’ physical, emotional, and psychological well being; however, not much is known on how bullying affects an individual’s risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Kristin Bernard and a team of researchers at Stony Brook University looked deeper into the effects of bullying on 920 World Trade Center (WTC) responders.

The WTC responders from the Stony Brook area were responsible for rescue and cleanup efforts after the devastating 9/11 WTC attacks. They were assessed for PTSD symptoms and completed a life events questionnaire that asked about traumatic life events, including those they have experienced during their childhood and any time prior to the 9/11 attacks. The researchers found that out of the 920 respondents, 7% experienced bullying during childhood. Furthermore, 12.3% experienced some form of assault/threat during childhood and 29.4% during adulthood. From the PTSD assessment, it was determined that 13% of the respondents had PTSD caused by the WTC attacks. Out of the 13%, the prevalence of PTSD was higher in the group that experienced some form of trauma or bullying during childhood. One particular area that surprised the researchers was the fact that the respondents who reported instances of assault or threats during their childhood did not have significantly strong associations with PTSD. In fact, those who were bullied during childhood had the greater likelihood of developing PTSD and a more difficult time recovering from it. The researchers hypothesized that individuals who undergo bullying may have altered responses to stress factors in the environment due to changes in behavior and brain activity. 

Dr. Bernard and her team’s research study paves the way for a greater understanding of PTSD and how bullying can be a significant risk factor. The team acknowledges that future studies should be done on a more diverse population that includes both males and females of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Works Cited:

[1] S. Mukherjee, et al., Past experiences of getting bullied and assaulted and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a severe traumatic event in adulthood: a study of World Trade Center (WTC) responders. Journal of aggression, maltreatment & trauma 29, 167–185 (2020). Doi: 10.1080/10926771.2018.1555873

[2] Image retrieved from:


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