Early studies on traditional bullying — the kind that includes physical violence, verbal taunts, or social exclusion — have surprisingly revealed that bully-victims (individuals who bully others and are themselves bullied) are just as prone to depression as those who are victims of bullying only.
In a new survey study, however, victims of cyber bullying are at greater risk for depression than the bullies or bully-victims.
The survey included students in the 6th through 10th grades and was led by Jing Wang, Ph.D. and colleagues from the National Institutes of Health.
“Notably, cyber victims reported higher depression than cyber bullies or bully-victims, which was not found in any other form of bullying,” the study authors wrote in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
“[U]nlike traditional bullying which usually involves a face-to-face confrontation, cyber victims may not see or identify their harasser; as such, cyber victims may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack.”
To conduct the study, the team analyzed data on American students collected in the 2005-2006 Health Behavior in School-aged Children Study, an international study of adolescents from 43 countries.
The researchers measured depression by weighing responses to six survey items. Students were asked to reveal, if, within the past 30 days, they felt very sad; grouchy or irritable, or in a bad mood; hopeless about the future; felt like not eating or eating more than usual; slept a lot more or a lot less than usual; and had difficulty concentrating on their school work. Answers were ranked on a five item scale ranging from ‘never’ to ‘always.’
Students were also asked to indicate whether they were involved in bullying behaviors, either as perpetrators or victims. Survey questions were designed to measure the following forms of bullying: physical, verbal, relational (social isolation and spreading false rumors), and cyber (using computers or cell phones).
The researchers classified bullying others or being bullied “two or three times a month” as frequent, and “only once or twice” as occasional. Students were further classified as one of the following: not involved with bullying at all, bullies, victims, or bully-victims (who had bullied others and also been bullied themselves).
In physical bullying, no differences were found in depression scores among bullies, victims, or bully-victims. In verbal and relational bullying, victims and bully-victims reported higher levels of depression than bullies alone.
In cyber bullying, however, frequent victims reported significantly higher levels of depression than frequent bullies and significantly higher depression than frequent bully-victims. The finding that victims of cyber bullying reported higher depression scores than cyber bully victims is distinct from traditional forms of bullying and calls for further study.
Dr. Wang noted that in an earlier study, she and her team had found that students who felt they had strong parental report were less likely to bully or to be victimized.
In addition to Dr. Wang, fellow researchers Tonja Nansel, Ph.D. and Ronald Iannotti, Ph.D., conducted the study. They are all affiliated with the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Source: National Institutes of Health