Children and young people under 25 who are victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to self-harm and exhibit suicidal behavior, according to a new U.K. study.
But new research also suggests that it is not just the victims of cyberbullying that are more vulnerable to suicidal behaviors. Bullies also are at higher risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Cyberbullying is using electronic communication to bully someone else, for instance by sending intimidating, threatening or unpleasant messages using social media, researchers explain.
The systematic review study, led by Professor Ann John at Swansea University Medical School in collaboration with researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Birmingham, looked at more than 150,000 children and young people across 30 countries over a 21-year period.
The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, highlighted the significant impact that cyberbullying — both as bullies and victims — can have on children and young people.
“Prevention of cyberbullying should be included in school anti-bullying policies,” John said, “alongside broader concepts such as digital citizenship, online peer support for victims, how an electronic bystander might appropriately intervene, and more specific interventions such as how to contact mobile phone companies and internet service providers to block, educate, or identify users.
“Suicide prevention and intervention is essential within any comprehensive anti-bullying program and should incorporate a whole-school approach to include awareness raising and training for staff and pupils,” she added.
Researchers made a number of recommendations, including:
- cyberbullying should be considered by policymakers who implement bullying prevention, in addition to traditional bullying and safe Internet use programs;
- clinicians working with children and young people and assessing mental health issues should routinely ask about experiences of cyberbullying and be trained to do so;
- children and young people involved in cyberbullying should be screened for common mental disorders and self-harm;
- school, family, and community programs that promote appropriate use of technology are important.
The study also found a strong link between being a cyber-victim and being a perpetrator. This was found to particularly put males at higher risk of depression and suicidal behaviors, researchers said.
The researchers added that these vulnerabilities should be recognized at school so that cyberbullying behaviors are seen as an opportunity to support vulnerable young people, rather than for discipline.
Researchers also recommend that anti-bullying programs and protocols address the needs of both victims and perpetrators. Researchers said possible school exclusion might contribute to an individual’s sense of isolation and lead to feelings of hopelessness, often associated with suicidal behaviors in adolescents and young people.
The research also found that students who were cyber-victimized were less likely to report and seek help than those victimized by more traditional means, highlighting the importance for school staff to encourage victims to seek help.
Source: Swansea University