Cyberbullying increases the risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior

April 26, 2018

2 minute read

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Young people who are victims and, to a lesser extent, perpetrators of cyberbullying are at higher risk for self-harm and suicidal behaviors than those who are not involved in cyberbullying, according to the study results.

“Perpetrators of cyberbullying have a degree of anonymity not possible in traditional bullying, and the potential victim exposure and embarrassment is on a grander scale,” Ann John, FFPH, Population Psychiatry, Suicide and Informatics, Swansea University Medical School, UK, and colleagues wrote. “It is possible to victimize a peer in their own home or elsewhere at any time of the day or night, and if they withdraw from the site, the messages often pile up. This presents new challenges for individuals, families, schools, professionals, researchers and policy makers.

The researchers carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of current evidence examining the relationship between involvement in cyberbullying – either as victim or perpetrator – and self-harm and suicidal behaviors in children and young adults aged under 25 using data from MEDLINE, Cochrane and PsycINFO. A total of 33 studies with outcomes related to self-harm, suicidal behavior, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation, covering a population of 156,384 young people, were included in the review. All data on prevalence rates of cybervictimization for the entire study population were reviewed.

Twenty-five papers involving 115,056 participants identified associations between being cyberbullied and self-harm or suicidal behaviors, or between cyberbullying others and suicidal behaviors. Additionally, three other studies involving 44,526 participants that assessed measures of cyberbullying, self-harm, or suicidal behaviors in combination with traditional bullying and mental health issues, showed negative influences, according to John and his colleagues.

Meta-analyses found that young victims of cybervictimization were more than twice as likely to self-injure (OR=2.35; 95% CI, 1.65-3.34), engage in suicidal behaviors (OR = 2.10; 95% CI, 1.73-2.55), having suicidal thoughts (OR = 2.15; 95% CI, 1.7-2.71) and trying to committing suicide (OR = 2.57; 95% CI, 1.69-3.9) compared to non-victims. Additionally, cyberbullies were more likely to engage in suicidal behaviors (OR=1.21; 95% CI, 1.02-1.44) and to have suicidal thoughts (OR=1.23; 95% CI, 1.1-1.37) than those who did not.

“Cyberbullying prevention should be included in school anti-bullying policies alongside broader concepts such as digital citizenship, online peer support for victims, how an e-viewer might intervene appropriately; and more specific interventions such as how to contact cell phone companies and internet service providers to block, educate or identify users,” John said in a press release. “Suicide prevention and intervention is essential in any comprehensive anti-bullying program and should incorporate a whole school approach to include education and training for staff and students.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial information.