Many of my patients have been horrendously bullied on camp primarily because of lack of supervision.
Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Psychologist warns of 'after-dark' bullying at long-term school camps
Adolescent expert Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says camps are a positive experience for most students, but some vulnerable children suffer emotional damage because they must spend 24 hours a day with their tormentors, for periods as long as a term.
"They are made to sleep, eat and engage in activities with kids they would normally try as hard as they can to avoid."
He said the worst bullying occurred in cabins at night when teachers were not watching.
"Many of my patients have been horrendously bullied on camp, primarily because of lack of supervision."
Dr Carr-Gregg said most students thrived at these retreats, building skills, independence and friendships, "but for a very small proportion of kids, say 2 or 3 per cent, it is not a good thing; it is traumatising".
Almost all independent schools, and a few state schools, have long-term camps, retreats or campuses in group cabins housing up to eight students. Generally, campers have little contact with their families.
For students anxious about attending school camp, Dr Carr-Gregg recommends getting an expert opinion.
"My advice to parents with any doubts is to consult a psychologist and ask them, 'Do you think this is something my kid can handle'."
He said cautious children could be gently encouraged to go, with the knowledge there would be people who could look after them, "but for a proportion of kids with mental health problems, there has to be adequate safety nets and I'm afraid, in some instances, there isn't".