According to a new study of over 2,000 UK teens Cyberbullying is linked to a variety of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, not only in victims but cyberbullies as well.
The study was in the Archives of Disease in Childhood Journal.
Clinical psychologist Ana Pascual-Sánchez, one of the authors of the study at Imperial College London, said her team was surprised by those results.
“Perpetrating aggression exposes bullies to potential violent situations in which they can lose control and even feel vulnerable at some point or regret from it, having intrusive memories,” Pascual-Sánchez said.
More than 2,200 teens ages 11 through 19 from four London schools were questioned for the study.
The researchers used the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire to first narrow down the types of bullying.
They found that cyberbullying was less likely, with one of four teens being involved, versus one in three teens being involved in traditional bullying.
Nearly 75% of the teens filled out the Children‘s Revised Impact of Events Scale to screen for PTSD symptoms.
Thirty-five percent of cyberbully victims scored above the threshold for PTSD symptoms, while 29% of the teens who did the cyberbullying showed signs of PTSD.
Cyberbullies were less likely to also be traditional bullies, the researchers also found, although they did observe teens who fell under both categories.
“It seems as if the anonymity provided by online means could increase the risk of cyberbullying perpetration, providing a platform that is easy to access and that can reach others quickly and easily,” Pascual-Sánchez said.
Because this was an informational study, there are no official findings on why some cyberbullies displayed PTSD symptoms.
Further research needs to be completed to understand causation and to dive deeper into the symptoms, Pascual-Sánchez said.
Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University, said he had not heard of cyberbullies experiencing PTSD symptoms in his research, but that it makes sense with other mental health struggles he has observed regarding cyberbullying.
Hinduja said he focuses on childhood trauma, also known as adverse childhood events, that kids can experience growing up. While some are resilient and can overcome their adversities, others develop problematic behavioral symptoms, according to Hinduja.
“We absolutely need professionals to continue to study some of these underlying psychological and physiological components, which can lead to these problems,” Hinduja said.
Through his research, Hinduja found that those issues can manifest into cyberbullying for a number of reasons, such as someone feeling jealous or insecure.
Other common reasons someone engages in cyberbullying include peer pressure or a stressful home life.
While he noticed in his own research that a large percentage of teens who cyberbully also engage in in-person bullying, he agreed with Pascual-Sánchez that some prefer to exclusively cyberbully to remain anonymous.
“They’re more likely to feel free from social norms and morals and ethics and rules and possible punishments and sanctions when they’re behind a screen and physically distant or geographically separate from the target,” Hinduja said.