Mental health impact of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a form of harassment and abuse perpetrated through digital technology.

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

The increasing access we have to digital technology and social media can help us keep in touch with friends and family, build and maintain our social support structures.

However, digital technology has also opened doors to online harassment, cyberaggression and cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is a form of harassment and abuse perpetrated through digital technology.

Cyberbullying affects up to 40% of adolescents and young people, but can affect people of all ages. Girls and women often face more social exclusion and attacks on their character while boys and men may face more direct threats of violence and hate speech.

Are you a victim of cyberbullying?

  1. Have you had rumours or accusations spread against you online?
  2. Have embarrassing images or videos of you been spread online without your consent?
  3. Have you been threatened on an online platform?
  4. Have you received hurtful or abusive comments or messages online?
  5. Has someone impersonated you and sent inappropriate messages as if they were you?
  6. Have you had persistent, unwanted social media engagement?

Types of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can occur through text messages, social media platforms, gaming platforms and chat rooms and other online forums. The abuse of cyberbullying can take the form of:

  1. Verbal harassment through abusive messages or comments, trolling and other disruptions on online platforms
  2. Discriminatory attacks online meant to intimidate and offend
  3. Online posts aimed at tarnishing someone’s character and reputation through spreading rumours or sharing inappropriate images or videos
  4. Cyberstalking, intrusive unwanted social media and other online engagements
  5. Impersonation and identity theft
  6. Catfishing, being manipulated by a false online persona

Why do people become cyberbullies?

People become cyberbullies often through hiding behind the anonymity of the online space. They never have to have any in-person, direct confrontation and this can result in disinhibited behaviour online that they may never do in person.

Cyberbullies may also be seeking to gain some fame from embarrassing others and may have an abnormal desire to control or manipulate others. Cyberbullies may have personality challenges (anti-social personality traits or narcissistic personality traits) and may have instability in their own personal lives and personal relationships. Some cyberbullies may use social media and other online platforms while intoxicated with alcohol and other substances.

Mental health effects of Cyberbullying

  1. Anxiety and fear of using online platforms
  2. Social embarrassment and humiliation
  3. Decreased self esteem and sense of self confidence
  4. Depression, despair and suicidal thoughts
  5. Anger and frustration
  6. Stress from dealing with the legal consequences of the effects of the cyberbullying
  7. Psychological trauma

What can I do if I am being cyberbullied?

  1. Disengage: continuing a conversation with a cyberbully will only distress you further and retaliation may escalate the abuse
  2. Block: use the various blocking technologies to prevent the cyberbully from communicating with you
  3. Keep evidence of the cyberbullying for legal purposes
  4. Report: to the social media administrator platforms as well as to local authorities if abuse continues
  5. Separate your self-worth and self-esteem from your social media persona. If someone is trolling you, this is not a measure of your worth as a person and of what you have to offer
  6. Invest in real life relationships and friendships
  7. Reach out for professional mental health support and counselling

What can we as a society do to mitigate against cyberbullying?

  1. Enforce cyberbullying laws
  2. Integrate safe internet and social media use into education programs to prepare young people for the online world they will inevitably need to navigate
  3. Raise awareness about cyberbullying and its mental health impact. Those who are cyberbullied are often ridiculed in society and shamed and rarely given mental health support
  4. Strengthen systems for victims of cyberbullying to reach out for mental health support even anonymously if they so wish
  5. Provision of legal and technological support to address that impact of cyberbullying

If you think that you or someone that you know maybe struggling with a mental health problem due to cyberbullying, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

*Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse is a consultant psychiatrist.  Feedback on WhatsApp: +263777727332

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