Cyberbullying can lead to post-traumatic stress in a third of victims

Cyberbullying can lead to post-traumatic stress – with more than a third of young victims suffering ‘similar levels as people caught up in terror attacks’

  • Victims suffer intrusive, repetitive thoughts and flashbacks due to the bullying
  • Those who were cyberbullies were also less likely to be traditional bullies
  • Researchers said results suggest children should be asked about cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder with more than a third of victims facing ‘similar levels as people caught up in a terror attack’, a first-of-its-kind study has found. 

Targets faced intrusive, repetitive thoughts and flashbacks as a result of online bullying, as well as avoidance behaviours such as refusing to talk about an experience or evading certain people and places. 

This led them to suggest that asking children about cyberbullying should become a routine part of any children’s mental or psychological assessment.

Cyberbulying prevalence among teenagers is thought to be between 10 and 40 per cent. 

Victims of cyberbullying face intrusive, repetitive thoughts and flashbacks a study by researchers at King’s College London has found. (Stock image)

In the study, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, researchers handed questionnaires to 2,218 pupils aged 11 to 19 that were attending four secondary schools in London.

They were asked what type of bullying they had faced, how often it had happened, and how long it had lasted. Each was also screened for PTSD symptoms.

The survey responses showed that nearly half, 46 per cent, had been involved in bullying either as the victim, 17 per cent, perpetrator, 12 per cent, or both, four per cent. 

As much as 13 per cent, had been cyberbullying victims while eight per cent had been cyberbullies and four per cent said they were both victims and bullies. 

However, just 52 per cent of cyber victims were also victims of traditional bullying, while only 48 per cent of cyberbullies were also traditional bullies.

The researchers wrote there was some ‘overlap’ between both types of bullying, but that pure cyberbullies were less likely to also target individuals in person.

Traditional bullying was also more common, they said, with 16 per cent saying they had been bullied in person, 12 per cent admitting to bullying others, and 6.5 per cent saying they had been both victims and perpetrators.

The researchers found that a third of cyberbullies also experienced PTSD symptoms.

However, they also found that traditional bullying was more prevalent than cyberbullying, and that just 48 per cent of cyberbullies were also traditional bullies (Stock image)

Study co-author Dr Dasha Nicholls, from the Division of Psychiatry at Imperial College London, said: ‘Parents, teachers and health professionals need to be aware of possible PTSD symptoms in young people involved in cyberbullying.

‘Despite cyberbullying being less frequent than traditional bullying, it is noteworthy that more than a third of cyberbullies were not involved in traditional bullying, but mainly as traditional victims.

‘This suggests that the anonymity provided to perpetrators online may constitute a new platform for bullying to occur, though this finding requires further study.’

The team concluded in their paper: ‘Cyberbullying, as a victim only, or as a victim-perpetrator, seems to be associated with multiple types of PTS symptoms.

‘Cyber and traditional victimisation significantly predicted intrusion and avoidance.

‘Paediatricians, general practitioners and mental health professionals need to be aware of possible PTS symptoms in young people involved in cyberbullying.’

From the sample just over half were girls, 55 per cent, and two thirds were from black, Asian and other ethnic minority groups.

As much as 80 per cent of the children involved had been born in the UK. 

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