While experiences of victimization are more common in clinical populations, and adolescent psychiatric patients have often been the objects of various forms of bullying, there is reason to believe that bullying via the internet may be particularly harmful for contemporary youths. The nature of internet and social media communications and the high value placed on these sources of information by teens may increase their power, while their broad reach and the anonymity of those who use them to hurt others may serve to aggravate the harm that they do. Therefore, it is important to understand the role that cyberbullying may play in the lives of those adolescents who seek mental health care.
At the annual convention of the American Psychiatric Association in May 2017, the Four Winds research team, led by David L. Pogge, Ph.D., Director of Psychology and Research, in partnership with investigators from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Farleigh Dickinson University, presented a study entitled “Cyberbullying and Adolescent Mental Health: A Study of Adolescents on an Acute Inpatient Psychiatric Unit.” This study suggests that cyberbullying does indeed have a significant impact on the mental health of adolescents.
The study followed upon earlier work by members of the research team, who had found that cyberbullying was a common experience among adolescent psychiatric patients. In the follow-up study, a total of 50 adolescent inpatients (13-16 years of age) agreed to complete surveys regarding childhood trauma, emotional and trauma-related symptoms, and experiences of cyberbullying. Three of the 50 participants acknowledged that they had cyberbullied others and 10 reported having been the victims of cyberbullying. Participants who reported experiencing previous emotional abuse were more likely to report having been cyberbullied. The victims of cyberbullying reported more depression, anger and dissociation than the nonbullied patients.
These findings further document the prevalence of this phenomenon in mental health settings and raise the possibility that cyberbullying may cause or exacerbate emotional problems. They also suggest that those teens who have previously been victimized—particularly those who report having been emotionally abused in the past—may be more vulnerable to abuse and may suffer exacerbation of their symptoms as a result. In the future, the Four Winds, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Fairleigh Dickinson University research team plans to examine the prevalence of cyberbullying in the general population and attempt to identify its impact on teens outside of clinical settings.
References: Saltz, SB, Rozon, M, Mavrides, NA, Pogge, DL, Harvey, PD (2017, May). Cyberbullying and adolescent mental health: A study of adolescents on an acute inpatient psychiatric unit. Poster presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting-American Psychiatric Association, San Diego, California.