"Fighting for my sanity” — new study finds 8 in 10 victims of stalking show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Victims of stalking have serious healthcare needs arising from the trauma of being stalked, which currently are not always being met. 

A new pilot study produced by Sussex Stalking Support and the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research at the University of Bedfordshire indicates that around eight in ten victims of stalking experience symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) in the aftermath of being stalked. Almost all the stalking victims who responded to the study reported that they felt “very frightened”, with individuals describing the experience as: “being stuck in a horror film and unable to eat or sleep”, and “fighting for their sanity every moment of the day”. Despite the high prevalence of PTSD symptoms in victims of stalking, only around a quarter were assessed for this when attending health services. 

Key findings include 

  • 96% of victims of stalking reported feeling very frightened.
  • 91% reported that they suffered from mental health problems following the experience of being stalked
  • As part of this study, respondents were asked questions from the PCL-5 scale (used as an initial assessment tool to indicate whether someone may fulfil the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder and could benefit from treatment). 78% scored 33 or higher, the level at which PTSD is indicated.
  • When victims of stalking were seen by their healthcare practitioner, only 24% were assessed for PTSD.
  • 58% of respondents accessed healthcare services specifically because they were a victim of stalking. When asked whether they had received help to deal with the impact of being stalked on their personal wellbeing, 34% reported that they were not offered any help.
  • Only 28% felt that their experience of asking for support from the healthcare system was positive overall, or that their healthcare practitioner was able to offer appropriate help.

Stalking is a pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which is repeated, persistent, intrusive and causes fear of violence or engenders alarm and distress in the victim.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust runs the National Stalking Helpline and its attached advocacy service, which provides help and support to thousands of victims of stalking every year. The Trust witnesses the severe impact that being stalked has on victims’ health and their ability to live their lives. Stalking is a crime characterised by the perpetrator’s fixation and obsession with their victim. All too often, victims report feelings of phobia, isolation, anxiety, depression, and fear. They may be unable to sleep, eat or carry out their day to day activities. Victims may experience panic attacks due to not knowing when the next incident may occur, in addition to self-harm or feeling suicidal.

This pilot study provides an indicative snapshot of the severe impact the experience of being stalked has on victims’ lives, mental health and wellbeing. It also highlights a lack of availability of appropriate support services to help victims manage their trauma. It suggests that there is a need for health services, including primary healthcare practitioners such as GPs and mental health services, to have a greater awareness and understanding of the damaging impact of stalking on victims, in order to be able to provide appropriate support

The National Stalking Consortium is calling for clear guidance for healthcare professionals working with victims of stalking to support them to better identify and understand the severe impact of stalking on victims’ health, as well as appropriate referral and treatment pathways.  

The Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Victoria Atkins said: “Stalking is an insidious crime that has a deep and significant impact on victims’ wellbeing. Both online and offline, perpetrators leave victims feeling constantly at risk and looking over their shoulder. I understand how much of an effect stalking has on survivors, which is why this Government has provided funding to charities for supporting victims as well as backing the Stalking Protection Act that will offer additional security to victims. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust does important work in its efforts to help and offer guidance to victims, and I am grateful for the impact they have.”

Suky Bhaker, acting CEO of Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “Stalking is a crime of psychological terror. It is essential that all victims who have experienced this horrific crime receive appropriate healthcare support, to help them manage the trauma caused by stalking. Clear, consistent guidelines to assist healthcare professionals in identifying and understanding the impact of stalking on victims, as well as signposting to appropriate treatment and referral pathways for victims who present at healthcare services, are an essential first step to ensuring they get the help and support they desperately need”.

Dr Emma Short, Reader in Cyber Psychology at the University of Bedfordshire and one of the authors of the pilot study, said: “While the management of stalkers and safeguarding of those targeted is largely in the hands of the criminal justice system, the impacts on victims’ health and wellbeing could be better supported by health services. The high proportion of victims of stalking who exhibited symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder suggests that screening, or referral for screening, for PTSD should be standard procedure for healthcare workers seeing victims of stalking.” 

Case study:

One victim of stalking who has been supported by the National Stalking Helpline described the impact on her of being stalked:

“I am normally a very strong person. Nothing deters me. Being stalked put a great strain on both mine and my husband’s health. My stalker tried to ruin my reputation by putting disgusting things about me on Facebook, getting the Police to turn up at my home, accusing me of harming my non-existent children. These were just a few of the things my stalker did. I was constantly looking over my shoulder when I went out. I was tearful and could not sleep. Any knock at the door would horrify me. It was only with the help of the National Stalking Helpline that I finally got the Police to do something and take my stalker to court. Without their help I don’t know what I would have done.  Words cannot express how grateful I was to my caseworker who helped me through the low times and was there to help me.  Without her help I would have had a nervous breakdown.”