June 22, 2015
2 min read

Cyberbullying linked to depression in adolescents

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According to analysis of existing research, there is a consistent relationship between cyberbullying and depression; however, the relationship between cyberbullying and other mental health conditions is inconsistent.

“The potential for harm from social media use is of particular importance for children and adolescents given their evolving developmental and maturity levels and extensive exposure to these platforms,” study researcher Michele P. Hamm, PhD, of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and colleagues wrote in JAMA Pediatrics. “While the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued recommendations to assess the effect of media on children and adolescents, the evidence suggests more is needed.”

To investigate potential health-related effects of cyberbullying via social media, Hamm and colleagues searched 11 electronic databases for existing studies that examined associations between cyberbullying, social media and health outcomes. The final analysis included 36 studies in 34 publications. The majority of studies sampled middle and high schools students, adolescents aged 12 to 18 years.

Overall, the median reported prevalence of cyberbullying was 23%. The most common reason for cyberbullying was relationship issues and females were more often recipients of cyberbullying than males.

Adolescents who experienced cyberbullying reported becoming more withdrawn, losing confidence and self-esteem and developing general feelings of uneasiness.

Relationships with family, friends and romantic partners were negatively affected by cyberbullying, according to researchers.

Some adolescents who were cyberbullied reported increased aggression and negative behavior effects at school, such as receiving lower grades, reduced attendance and getting in trouble.

Five studies that examined cyberbullying and anxiety reported inconsistent or weak associations between the two.

All of the ten studies that explored cyberbullying and depression found statistically significant correlations between cyberbullying and depression. As exposure to cyberbullying increased, levels of depression increased.

Five studies showed conflicting results for correlations between cyberbullying and self-harm and/or suicidality.

“Despite some inconsistency in results, social media use is undeniably widespread and can act as a forum for negative behaviors that may adversely affect mental health,” Hamm and colleagues wrote. “Recognition of these issues is key to advancing prevention and management efforts, which are likely necessary at multiple levels, involving adolescents, parents and groups that interact with adolescents, such as teachers and health care professionals. The data show that adolescent lack awareness or confidence that anything can be done about cyberbullying; therefore, efforts should be made to increase education regarding how to address it and who to tell, focusing on both recipients and bystanders.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.