How Online Bullying Could Affect Mental Health

Depression among young people tied to cyberbullying via social media

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) While social media tools like Facebook have many positive aspects, they may have opened the door for a new type of bullying, which may be adding to depression among young people.

A new study found that many children and adolescents have reported being bullied online (or cyberbullied). The authors of this study found that cyberbullying was consistently linked to a higher risk of depression.

Not long ago, in 2004, online social networking was just getting off the ground with the introduction of Facebook. Since that time, many young people have been using social media sites as a primary means of communication. These sites provide an easy way to share information and interact with friends, family and others.

Social media, however, has also led some people to post negative and hurtful comments about others.

Lead study author Michele P. Hamm, PhD, of the University of Alberta’s Department of Pediatrics, and colleagues reviewed 36 studies to assess how cyberbullying might affect children and adolescents.

Kelly McCabe, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S, a psychotherapist with Scott & White Healthcare in Round Rock, TX, told dailyRx News, “Cyberbullying has detrimental effects on adolescents regardless of gender. Girls are most likely to internalize their struggle while boys tend to act out more aggressively and physically. Statistics have suggested that only about one-third of bullying is reported to an adult, and that is oftentimes after it has continued for an extended period. When you add the element of social media, it is possible that many more go unreported.”

Dr. Hamm and colleagues calculated that the median percentage of children and adolescents who reported cyberbullying in the past studies was 23 percent. Their ages ranged from 12 to 18. Most were female. Social media platforms mentioned in the research included blogs, Twitter and message boards. Study patients indicated that Facebook was the most common platform used for their social media interactions.

Girls were the most commonly cyberbullied group. Most incidents were over relationship problems.

Dr. Hamm and team noted that five past studies reported inconsistent and/or weak links between cyberbullying and anxiety. Ten studies, however, found a statistically significant link between cyberbullying and depression.

Most public responses to cyberbullying have been passive, Dr. Hamm and team noted. Overall, most young people had a lack of awareness of how to deal with the problem. These researchers called for more efforts to increase education on how to address cyberbullying.

“Adults should keep an open dialogue with their kids about bullying and make sure to educate them on the importance of building healthy relationships,” McCabe, who was not involved in the current study, said. “Practice building skills [with young people] like active listening and respectful communication. Have fewer conversations in removed ways [as in texting and online messaging]. Make it a point to connect in person and practice sitting with the emotions that happen when someone is communicating about their feelings. These interactions foster empathy and compassion. The best intervention in avoiding the negative effects of any type of bullying is to get ahead of it and prevent it. This can happen if healthy relational skills are fostered.”

This study was published online June 22 in JAMA Pediatrics. A Knowledge Synthesis grant and New Investigator Salary Awards from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair funded this research. Dr. Hamm and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 19, 2015
Last Updated:
June 25, 2015