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How Cyberbullying Affects Mental Health

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

We are more connected to each other and to our devices now than ever before. Many people’s lives are tied to their phones, social media, email and the internet in general. Large portions of our social interactions are spent seeking likes, upvotes and shares on the content we put out into the world. The dopamine produced from these social interactions makes us want to continue to do this day-in and day-out.

However, the anonymity afforded to the users of these platforms can turn social media from something that brings us closer to friends and family than ever before, to something that is a source of anxiety and hurt for many.

Cyberbullying has become even more common than traditional bullying. It is particularly dangerous for children and teenagers, but the range of cyberbullying victims includes people of all ages and backgrounds.

The effects of cyberbullying can be severe so it’s important to know how to handle cyberbullying properly. It can be very traumatizing, so if you or your loved one have become a victim of cyberbullies, you shouldn’t hesitate to get professional emotional support.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying can take various forms. Bullies are active on all social media platforms and forums, sharing offensive content and leaving rude and insensitive comments. Quite often, cyberbullies go beyond commenting and post direct threats.

They may also leak the victim’s sensitive information, hack their accounts, and share embarrassing content.

Just like traditional bullying, cyberbullying is particularly common in schools. However, given that cyberbullying takes place online, it feels permanent, as it doesn’t stop when victims are at home.

Besides, once the offensive content is posted online, it can be quickly shared by others. As a result, victims of cyberbullies often experience an intense feeling of humiliation.

According to statistics, nearly half of children and young people under 25 (47%) have received intimidating, threatening or nasty messages online.

Although a lot of the cyberbullying focus is on kids mainly because this group is most vulnerable to long-term impacts of cyberbullying, they are not the only victims. Adults are often guilty of or subjected to cyberbullying.

In fact, four in ten Americans have experienced some form of online harassment.

What Are the Mental Health Concerns Around Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is associated with multiple risks. Studies around cyberbullying have found it contributes to a number of negative mental health outcomes, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Hostility and aggression

  • Substance abuse

  • Self-harm

  • ADHD symptoms

  • Suicidality

In addition, there are psychosocial outcomes like low self-esteem, stress, less sociality.

If you are worried that your child or a loved one might be the victim of cyber bullying here are some signs to look out for:

  • Low self-esteem

  • Withdrawal from family and spending a lot of time alone

  • Reluctance to let parents or other family members anywhere near their mobiles, laptops etc

  • Finding excuses to stay away from school or work including school refusal

  • Friends disappearing or being excluded from social events

  • Losing weight or changing appearance to try and fit in

  • Self-injury or other self-destructive behaviors

  • A change in personality i.e. anger, depression, crying, withdrawn

How to Deal With Cyberbullying

If you (or your child) have been harassed online by cyberbullies, here are some effective tips that can help you deal with cyberbullying and protect your mental well-being from its negative consequences.

1. Avoid emotional responses

Cyberbullies want to annoy their victims and to make them act emotionally. Keep in mind that the person who harasses you online wants you to respond so that they can continue their attacks.

If someone leaves a hurtful comment or tags you on inappropriate photos, don’t rush to respond. Take your time to distance yourself from this situation and think of whether or not you need to respond, in the first place. In most cases, not responding is the best thing you can do to maintain good mental health.

2. Take screenshots

If the person who targets you realizes that they might face consequences of their actions, they may delete their comments in an attempt to destroy the evidence.

Therefore, the best solution is to take screenshots. This way, you will make sure that that person won’t be able to say that you’ve just made up the whole story.

3. Report and block

The majority of social media platforms have tools aimed to make users feel safer. You can report offensive content and block users who disturb you. All such tools are anonymous so the bully won’t know who reported them.

If your child is bullied by their peers in school, you can contact the school counselor, principal, or superintendent, as well as the State Department of Education.

In the case of direct threats or if the bully sends you sexually explicit materials, including child pornography, don’t hesitate to contact the police.

4. Limit your social media usage

This is one of the best self-care tips for mental health in general, and it can be particularly useful when dealing with multiple cyberbullying attacks. In this case, it may feel like bullies are constantly present in your life and you cannot escape them.

Even if you do everything right and report every offensive comment, you may still need a break from those who harass you online. Therefore, limiting your social media usage and spending more time offline is a great solution.

5. Consider counseling

Children and teens who become victims of cyberbullying may feel shame and hesitate to talk about their problems to parents. Therefore, it’s important for parents to observe their children’s behavior and to be aware of the cyberbullying effects on mental health.

If your child seems depressed, withdrawn, anxious or demonstrates bullying behavior, you should talk to them and consider visiting a counselor.

A professional counselor or social worker can help you better understand your child’s behavior and suggest possible steps that you can take in each particular situation.

You can also benefit from counseling if you’ve become a target for cyberbullies.

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