Bullying probably is as old as mankind. However, being a longstanding part of human behavior does not make it acceptable.
Studies have shown many problems associated with being a victim of bullying, including delayed growth and development; mental health problems; medical issues; poor academic performance; and more. Many of the problems caused by bullying can last into adulthood.
It is estimated that between 5 and 20 percent of children worldwide are victims of physical, verbal and exclusionary bullying. Suicide also is a significant problem, with almost 20 percent of adolescents in America having suicidal thoughts and five to eight percent attempting it.
Technology has shaped contemporary bullying, just as it has most aspects of modern life. Cyberbullying, as it is known, can take the shape of threatening messages, spreading rumors, excessive teasing, and more.
Cyberbullying is more problematic than traditional bullying because it can happen anytime from anywhere, and it can be done anonymously. Someone can go online and attack another person using a fake profile or no name or citation at all, depending on the site. It is difficult to remove messages and other data online. Some people who may not normally bully will do so because they know they do not have to face any of the consequences.
These messages also can spread quickly to a wide audience. Furthermore, many people who are victims of cyberbullying will experience traditional bullying as well. A recent meta-analysis review of over 40 studies on bullying has found that cyberbullying actually contributes more to suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents than traditional bullying.
For the analysis of 284,375 participants, researchers from the Netherlands reviewed 34 studies that looked at the relationship between bullying and suicidal ideation (thinking about suicide) and nine studies that looked at the connection between bullying and suicide attempts. They only looked at studies that included peer victimization, excluding other forms of victimization, such as assault, sexual abuse, or robbery. They also did not include self-harm because they felt that the underlying reasons for self-harm can be different from those of suicide. Youth in hospitals or juvenile detention centers were excluded from the study.
This study mainly focused on suicidal ideation. Some of the studies looked at unsuccessful suicide attempts, although the analysis was unable to gauge the association between cyberbullying and successful suicide attempts, due to the difficulty of accurately determining the causes of suicide. However, suicidal ideation can lead to attempts, which can also lead to suicide, making suicidal ideation a risk factor for suicide.
In 70,102 of the participants, the researchers found an association between cyberbullying and suicidal ideation.
The age or gender of the participants did not cause any difference in the likelihood of having suicidal thoughts. This finding contradicted some of the findings in the individual studies that stated that girls would have a more immediate risk of suicidal ideation, while boys were more likely to have such thoughts only if there was prolonged bullying.
The researchers also found that these relationships were stronger in victims of cyberbullying, contradicting earlier studies that showed the effects were equal to traditional bullying.
Therefore, this meta-analysis study demonstrates that peer victimization is a risk factor for suicide attempts and ideation, especially cyberbullying.
Awareness campaigns in schools and communities that illustrate the consequences of bullying, as well as making it taboo, will help to diminish bullying. Although bullying has the greatest effect on the victim, there are also negative consequences to the health and well-being of the bully and the bystanders.
It is important for victims of bullying to have access to resources to help diminish the negative impact. Going through psychotherapy to talk through the feelings, emotions, and other negative effects of the actions can help a person to overcome some of the issues associated with being a victim of bullying. Feeling loved and supported by family, peers, teachers, and other important people in their lives also can help victims find healthy ways to process the negative effects of bullying.