DAILY / MAY 5, 2018  
Psychiatric News Update

Experts Discuss Psychiatric Consequences of Cyberbullying

The rapid spread of personal electronic devices along with social media platforms and apps has led to a relatively new trend in bullying known as cyberbullying. Some of the common social networks that cyberbullies use to harass others are YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, Tumblr, and WhatsApp.

“Over the last few years, there has been significant growth in cyberbullying and research in regard to children and adolescents, but also adults in the workplace,” said Christopher Ong, M.D., who today chaired the session “Cyberbullying and Online Harassment: Update on Prevalence, Psychiatric Consequences, Screening, and Prevention” at APA’s Annual Meeting. Ong is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a psychiatric fellow at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

In this open forum, presenters and attendees discussed high-profile examples of online harassment and large-scale studies that provide insight into the most prevalent psychiatric consequences of cyberbullying, such as depression, anxiety disorders and substance use that can extend into adulthood, and in some severe cases, suicide.

The session covered various types of cyberbullying, including cyberstalking (bully continuously harasses victim); outing (bully shares private, personal information about another person); masquerading (bully creates a fake identity to harass the victim); and self-cyberbullying (person posts insults and negative comments about him or herself online from an alternate IP address).

Throughout the session, presenters discussed studies conducted at Florida Atlantic University under principal investigator Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., a professor of criminology and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, including “Digital Self-Harm among Adolescents,” published December 2017 in The Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers surveyed more than 5,500 American middle and high school students about potential self-harming habits online (self-cyberbullying) and found that 6 percent admitted to posting this type of content centered on themes of self-hate, attention-seeking, depression, and suicidality.

The presenters reviewed the prevalence of cyberbullying (30-40 percent of students in some studies report they were cyberbullied); screening strategies for clinical use; and current legislation. It’s important for psychiatrists to be familiar with the various mediums through which cyberbullying can occur and have specific screening strategies and questionnaires to monitor cyberbullying, said Ong.

To identify cyberbullying before it causes long-term harm, mental health professionals should know the warning signs of cyberbullying (such as increased emotional responses to what’s on their devices and social withdrawal) and have an understanding of readily implementable prevention strategies, he said. These strategies include reviewing privacy settings to ensure posts and communications are being presented to the intended audience. Most people have found that either blocking the perpetrators or reporting them to the social media network is the most effective action to take. Teens should not hesitate to report cyberbullying to a trusted parent or guardian.

(Image: iStock/ dmbaker)


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