Published on: 20th April 2018
By Ann John
Clinical Professor of Public Health and Psychiatry, Swansea University
Cyberbullying is very different to traditional bullying. Relationships between victims and perpetrators do not need to be physically close, they don’t need to be in the same class or even in the same school, for example. It can easily be anonymous, which may lower inhibitions to behave in a mean or hurtful way. It doesn’t stop once someone is at home, and isn’t limited by time of day or night. And the potential exposure and embarrassment of the victim is on a much larger scale.
There may be no respite or sanctuary for a victim of cyberbullying. Messages can be sent and received via mobiles in secret or through anonymous apps, with no one to step in and stop it.
Being bullied is associated with self-harm and suicidal behaviours, as well as mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. But what about cyberbullying? The stakes are high with greater exposure to peers and it can be persistent, so it’s possible the impact could be more serious, too?
For our latest research, we systematically gathered all the studies on cyberbullying since the mid-1990s, to explore the association between it and self-harm and suicidal behaviours. We looked at information from more than 150,000 children and young people, from 30 different countries.
We found that approximately 13 in every 100 children and young people aged under 25 have experienced cyberbullying. And those who become victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to self-harm and enact suicidal behaviors. Interestingly, perpetrators of cyberbullying are also more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and behaviours, although to a lesser extent.