How Does Cyberbullying Impact Young Psychiatric Inpatients?
Cyberbullying can magnify symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in young inpatients at an adolescent psychiatric hospital, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
“Even against a backdrop of emotional challenges in the kids we studied, we noted cyberbullying had an adverse impact. It’s real and should be assessed,” said Philip D. Harvey, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Harvey says children with a history of abuse were more likely to be cyberbullied, suggesting that assessments for childhood trauma should also include assessments for cyberbullying. Likewise, children who report being cyberbullied should be assessed for a history of childhood trauma.
“Cyberbullying is possibly more pernicious than other forms of bullying because of its reach,” Harvey says. “The bullying can be viral and persistent. To really be bullying, it has to be personal — a directly negative comment attempting to make the person feel bad.”
The study helped to confirm other facts about cyberbullying:
- being online regularly or the amount of time spent on social media weren’t determining factors in who was cyberbullied;
- cyberbullying cuts across all economic classes and ethnic backgrounds;
- adolescents who have been bullied in the past had a higher risk of being bullied again.
The study involved 50 young psychiatric inpatients, ages 13 to 17, in which the researchers examined the prevalence of cyberbullying and related it to social media usage, current levels of symptoms and histories of adverse early life experience.
The study was conducted from September 2016 to April 2017 at a suburban psychiatric hospital in Westchester County, New York. The researchers asked participants to complete two childhood trauma questionnaires and a cyberbullying questionnaire.
A total of 20% of participants reported that they had been cyberbullied within the last two months before their admission. Half of the participants were bullied by text messages and half on Facebook. Transmitted pictures or videos, Instagram, instant messages and chat rooms were other cyberbullying vehicles.
Teens who had been bullied had significantly higher severity of PTSD, depression, anger, and fantasy dissociation than those who were not bullied.
Young people who reported being cyberbullied also reported significantly higher levels of lifetime emotional abuse on the study’s Childhood Trauma Questionnaire compared to those who were not bullied. These same young people did not report a significantly higher level of other types of trauma (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect or physical neglect).
More research is needed to determine whether there may be some unique consequence of childhood emotional abuse that makes troubled teens more likely to experience or report cyberbullying.
While all of the participants in this study were psychiatric inpatients, those who had been bullied had significantly higher scores on PTSD, depression, anger, and dissociation scores compared to the non-bullied participants. Harvey says this finding is consistent with previous research.
He encourages psychologists, psychiatrists and other counselors to routinely ask young people if they had experienced trauma or abuse when they were younger and whether they are being bullied now.
He says adding these questions to the clinical evaluation of adolescents may bring to light symptoms that may have otherwise been ignored. Furthermore, factors that may be causing or contributing to those symptoms can be targeted for specific intervention.
Parents and teens can take action to discourage bullying, Harvey says. “It’s not hard to block someone on the Internet, whether it’s texting, Facebook, Twitter, or sending pictures. Ask, why are people choosing you to bully? If it’s something you’re posting, assess that and make a change.”
Pedersen, T. (2020). How Does Cyberbullying Impact Young Psychiatric Inpatients?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/01/22/how-does-cyberbullying-impact-young-psychiatric-inpatients/153593.html