How cyberbullying affects mental health in young people

The author says cyberbullies’ negative comments could be about the person’s physical appearance or an attack on the person’s ideology, race, religion, culture, sexuality, gender, or anything else that the cyberbully wants to pick on. Picture: SUPPLIED

Bula Fiji! Thank you for taking time out to read Bula Vakasaama, a column dedicated to enlightening readers about practical strategies for optimal mental health and mind wellness.

Today’s topic is on cyberbullying – an issue we can all relate to at some level, thanks to our daily use of gadgets where most of our communication is via texting or messages and comments on different social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Viber, to name a few.

What is cyberbullying?

Researchers Martina Coric and Ana Kastelan define cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through computers, cell phones and other electronic devices”.

Cyberbullying is now recognised as a global public health issue.

Celebrities such as Billie Eilish, Millie Bobby Brown, Selena Gomez, and Jesy Nelson have openly spoken about their horrific experiences with cyberbullying. Statistics indicate that from age 14, cyberbullying is a possible reality in a young person’s life.

Coric’s and Kastelan’s research indicated that almost 30 per cent of young adults have been cyberbullied and about 20 per cent of individuals have admitted to bullying others through internet, texts, or other social media platforms.

Most of these cyberbullies prefer to have a false identity or anonymity when they are victimising people online. Cyberbullying is now known as a form of violence and has been the cause of distress for many parents, teachers, and caregivers.

Most young people who are victims of cyberbullying (cybervictims) either accept it as normal behaviour among peers or suppress their emotions, hence giving rise to greater incidents of such violence by their cyberbullies (perpetrators).

In some cases the cybervictims retaliate to the virtual violence through counter comments which then starts a vicious cycle of abuse and toxicity. Cyberbullies have an agenda to intimidate, insult, and emotionally manipulate their victims.

Cyberbullying is easily identified by the repetitive negative comments on a post that attack the person who has put the post.

These negative comments could be about the person’s physical appearance or an attack on the person’s ideology, race, religion, culture, sexuality, gender, or anything else that the cyberbully wants to pick on.

Mental health symptoms displayed by cybervictims

Cybervictims tend to internalise the hurt and anger that is caused by this repetitive online violence. This leads to a severe decline in their mental health and can cause the following mental health symptoms;

  • Substance use;
  • Suicidal ideation and sometimes attempts;
  • Feeling anxious all the time;
  • Feeling paranoid about going places or meeting people;
  • Feeling low in self-worth;
  • Depressive symptoms; and
  • Being absent from school or a particular class

Can a family member or relative or friend become your cyberbully?

Absolutely yes. Getting incessant negative texts or online comments from anyone, even if they happen to be a family member or relative or someone from your friends circle, is still classified as cyberbullying. The plus point in such situations is that you are actually aware of the person’s identity and that means you can take appropriate steps to resolve any misunderstandings or conflict.

Are you a cyberbully?

Take a moment to reflect on your own online habits. Are you someone who likes to put negative comments on people’s posts?

Do you send text messages to someone harassing them about something?

Do you send long messages to people accusing them of something, or calling them names, or attacking them with threats and ultimatums?

If you have answered yes to one or more of these, you are most likely a cyberbully.

Do not take your virtual freedom for granted. It is only a matter of time when someone that you are harassing online may file a formal complaint against you.

Even if you are deleting text messages after sending them, the phone companies can always retrieve these messages and they can be used as evidence in court to prove cyberbullying.

Even if you may be using false identity on social media platforms, there are ways to trace IP addresses and eventually link the comments and virtual violence back to the cyberbully. Beware. Cyberbullying is a serious and punishable offence.

Strategies to overcome cyberbullies

No comment is the best comment. Do not engage with them whatsoever. Whatever it is that the cyberbully may be saying in the text or comment, it is not your truth. It is coming from a place of insecurity in that person.

The only way they can feel good about themselves is to cause harm to another person in this way. If you engage with them by replying to their text or comment, you are validating their ego and giving them fodder to continue their virtual violence.

Do not reply. If required, block, report, delete. If the person is known to you, and if they are underage, report the matter to their parents or school. If the cyberbully is an adult, report the matter to the police.

And in either case you can also report the matter to complaints/

• PRINCESS R LAKSHMAN is a counsellor, clinical nutritionist, writer, narrative therapist, and certified lifecoach. She is passionate about mind wellness and an advocate for kindness and self-care. She lives in Sydney and will soon open mind wellness hubs in Fiji to provide free mental health counselling and workshops exclusively to Fiji residents. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper. She can be reached at info@princesslakshman. com

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