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Adolescents who were cyberbullied experienced greater psychiatric symptom severity, including for depression and PTSD, according to results of a questionnaire-based study published in Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
“Cyberbullying is not uncommon but is much rarer than some previous studies reported,” Philip D. Harvey, PhD, of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Healio Psychiatry. “Adolescents who had been abused before had higher risk for being cyberbullied, particularly in the domain of emotional abuse. Even compared with other adolescent psychiatric inpatients, depression and PTSD symptoms were elevated in this subgroup.”
According to Harvey and colleagues, controversy persists regarding how common cyberbullying is and what its causes, consequences and correlates are. In the present study, they examined its prevalence among psychiatric inpatients and determined its relation to histories of adverse early life experience, current symptom levels and social media usage. To do so, they collected data on the prevalence of social media utilization and cyberbullying victimization from 50 inpatients aged 13 to 17 years. Participants completed two surveys that assessed childhood trauma, as well as the Cyberbullying Questionnaire.
The researchers found that 20% of participants reported cyberbullying victimization. Overall engagement in and access to internet-based communication or social media was very common, with most participants engaging in at least one social media activity on a daily basis or more frequently. Those who experienced bullying had significantly higher scores on PTSD, depression, anger and fantasy dissociation scales compared with those who had not. Victims of cyberbullying also reported significantly higher levels of lifetime emotional abuse according to the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire compared with nonvictims. However, they did not report higher levels of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect or physical neglect. Those who were bullied were more likely to see elevations in hyperresponse, PTSD and depression scale scores.
“Kids who were bullied and those who were not had equal levels of online presence and activity,” Harvey said. “Accessing the internet was not associated with risk for bullying.”
He also noted some questions that remain to be answered in future research: How do the bullies identify the kids to victimize? Are the bullied kids sending out a signal? Are they putting themselves in risky situations? – by Joe Gramigna
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.