How cyberbullying affects health and mental growth

Cyberbully: A girl being cyberbullied by her school mates
EJ
Emeh Joy

It is a digital and technology world today with almost everyone online, which is awesome as it makes life easier. However, it is also not new, the heinous crimes and things people do online and that includes cyberbullying; what we commonly call "online trolling".

Log in to different social media platforms; Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and see people being bullied, trolled, body-shamed thus, painting the picture that the social media environment is an unhealthy one.

While some people do these things to harm or hurt the bullied intentionally, some others are simply ignorant of its devastating effect and see it as just a way of having "fun" online. But is it?

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is not any different from the typical traditional bullying we know and experience in our schools, the society. The only difference is that this bully attack is launched online mostly via social media platforms leaving the victim vulnerable to the millions of internet users.

Cyberbullying is a form of harassment using electronic means of communication. It is a new form of harassment that bullies now use to taunt their victims either through the mobile phone or computer.

Studies have shown a high prevalence of bullying among teenagers. A study reviewed by the National Institute of Health revealed that as much as 87 per cent of the youths today have witnessed cyberbullying. Another study showed 34 per cent of students reportedly experience cyberbullying in their lifetime.

What does this tell you? It simply means that we should expect in the near future increased risk of mental health problems and growth stunted as a result of these acts of bullying.

Effects of cyberbullying

Let's see some of the health impacts of cyberbullying.

Depression

Some people think the word "depression" is still being overused while some believe it would never happen to them. You'd be surprised how close these mental conditions are to us.

Teenagers that experience bullying have a higher risk of depression during their adult life, and its effect can even be worse than that of child abuse.

It doesn't happen only with traditional bullying. Studies have shown a consistent link between cyberbullying and an increased risk of depression.

Suicide

Sometimes, the effects of cyberbullying can be fatal. Depression alone is already a breeding ground for suicidal thoughts. A recent study showed that 30 per cent of the people who fell victim of bullying have attempted to take their own lives.

Bullying has also shown to increase feelings of isolation and loneliness in victims and can further worsen an already stressful situation.

Low self-esteem

This is one of the very pronounced negative effects of online trolling. It takes a massive toll on the self-esteem of the victim, making him or her feel less of a human than others. It makes one feel inferior and not as good as others.

At least 83 per cent of people who have experienced bullying felt their self-esteem was hurt. A study showed that girls that experienced cyberbullying had more tendency to post mean comments online while the boys had a higher tendency of posting hurtful videos and pictures online.

Anxiety

Anxiety is another serious mental condition, just like depression. Unknown to many, it can go just beyond the usual feeling of stress or worry we feel on certain days.

It is different from having an anxious feeling or feeling stressed because, with those, the feeling goes away once the stressor is removed.

However, in the case of anxiety or anxiety disorder, the worries, fear and anxiety are constant and intense enough to severely impact on one's life and interfere with one's daily activities.

A study carried out by Duke University showed that people who once experienced bullying are more predisposed to developing an anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

Low cognition

Being bullied can make one have low self-esteem, which can affect cognition. Such a person might lose interest in learning and would have the wrong notion about themselves.

They might give up on improving on themselves, and in some cases where the cyberbullying is coming from school mates, it could make the bullied feel reluctant to attend classes.

The effect would be seen in the academic records as it can cause a significant reduction in the academic grade of the bullied.

While cyberbullying is seen more with teenagers, it is notable to say that it happens even amongst adults. Other effects include difficulty in maintaining social relationships, increased risk of substance abuse, feelings of shame, bedwetting, changes in eating habits, sleep problems etc.

Are there effects of cyberbullying for the bully?

One would wonder if bullying in any way affects the person that bullies other people. You would be surprised to find out that bullies to get affected by their horrible acts as much as the bullied ones.

While it may be hard to empathize with the bullies because they are the ones causing harm to others, people must recognize that there is a reason why bullies do the things they do.

Sometimes it could be as a result of mental issues on their part. It could be stressful situations they are going through, and they end up taking out their aggression and frustration on others.

Someone who bullies others stands the increased risk of truancy, poor school performance, increased risk of drug abuse as well as social distancing. If their behaviour is not checked, it can further lead to dropping out of school and spouse or child abuse.

Increase in cyberbullying: What should parents look out for?

A mother offering emotional support to her child

Most times, young ones don't talk about what they go through especially when it is harassment coming from peers, and this makes it difficult for parents and guardians to tell when their young ones are being bullied. But, there are some signs to always look out for:

  • When a child starts becoming withdrawn and upset especially after going through their mobile devices
  • Reluctance to attend classes or fear of going to school.
  • Excessive use of mobile device and addiction with being online
  • When the child suddenly stops using his or her phone or PC without a tangible reason

When you notice some of these strange behaviours with your young ones, ensure that you let them know that they can always talk to you. Listen to them and ask them their opinion and how best they think the situation should be handled.

Make them feel loved and make them understand that you are with them. Also, check up on their social media activities. Report the bullies if you can and use the block button where necessary.

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