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Cyberbullying Linked With Range of Mental Health Effects

May 21, 2017

SAN DIEGO—Adolescents who experience cyberbullying are at increased risk for several mental health conditions, especially if they have previously been emotionally abused, researchers found in a study being presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting.

A study team collected data on social media use and cyberbullying among 50 inpatients between the ages of 13 and 16 at Four Winds Hospital, a private inpatient psychiatric hospital in Westchester County, New York. The team was led by Samantha B. Saltz, MD, chief resident of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida.

In a previous study, they found that nearly half of adolescent psychiatric patients had been victims of cyberbullying.

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In the new study, they found 20% of the patients had experienced recent cyberbullying, and cyberbullying was associated with symptoms of depression and dissociation, and with anger.

“Those who were victims of cyberbullying were more depressed, they were more irritable and angry, and they were more likely to not feel like themselves than those who were not victims of cyberbullying,” Dr. Saltz said.

Previous experience of emotional abuse was significantly correlated with cyberbullying, but physical and sexual abuse and physical and emotional neglect were not.

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The study found most participants used at least one social media platform at least once per day, and 86% had access to a cell phone. The cyberbullying victims reported that several social media platforms as well as chat rooms were used in the cyberbullying.

The study’s other authors included David L. Pogge, PhD, director of psychology at Four Winds Hospital and Philip D. Harvey, PhD, the Leonard M. Miller Professor of Psychiatry and director of the division of psychology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Dr. Saltz said the team is now conducting more research on perpetrators of cyberbullying. Three of the patients in the study admitted to carrying out cyberbullying themselves.

“We hope to increase awareness, educate parents, and protect our youth, in order to save lives,” Dr. Saltz said.

—Terri Airov


“Cyberbullying and Adolescent Mental Health: A Study of Adolescents on an Acute Inpatient Psychiatric Unit.” Abstract to be presented at: the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting; May 23, 2017; San Diego, CA.

New Research: Cyberbullying Linked with Depression, Emotional Abuse [press release]. American Psychiatric Association: San Diego, CA; May 20, 2017.

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