Cyberbullying Linked to Depression, Alcohol Abuse


You may have already seen the effects of cyberbullying in your anxious child, with cyberbullies running rampant at the middle and high school levels. But a recent study shows cyberbullying doesn’t end there. Cyberbullying is just as common at the college level, where the effects can be equally detrimental – for both the victims and the perpetrators.

Effects of Cyberbullying

Middle and high school students who have been involved in cyberbully have been shown to suffer from high levels of depression and other negative health issues. The same holds true for college students, with cyberbullying at the college level linked to an increased risk of depression as well as alcohol abuse.

The Study

The study involved 265 female college students. They were asked to fill out online surveys regarding cyberbully behaviors, a health questionnaire that measured symptoms of depression, and the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test, or AUDIT.

Results indicated those who had any involvement with cyberbullying were nearly three times more likely to develop clinical depression than those who had no involvement with cyberbullying.

Additionally, those who acted as the bully in cyberbullying incidents were four times more likely than non-bullies to succumb to depression as well as problematic drinking.

The study focused on young women, rather than male students, because females typically have higher rates of depression during college. They were also more likely to have had some type of involvement with cyberbullying at a younger age.

Results by the Numbers

  • 27.2: Percentage of study participants who experienced some type of cyberbullying while in college. This came to a total of 72 participants with the following breakdown:
  • 45: Number of cyberbullying victims
  • 19: Number of bully/victims
  • 8: Number of bullies
  • 4: Percentage of study participants with scores signifying depression
  • 6: Percentage of participants with scores signifying problematic alcohol use

Cyberbullying Behaviors

The three cyberbullying behaviors that resulted in the most significant risk of depression or alcohol abuse were:

  • Unwanted sexual advances, online or via text
  • Text harassment
  • Posting of degrading comments

Direct Support Rare

Students shouldn’t expect a cyber-knight in shining armor to come to their rescue during the incidents, either. Another study, this one published in Computers in Human Behavior, found that 90 percent of college students who witnessed cyberbullying in action did nothing to directly intervene.

The study set up a test chat room that students were asked to evaluate. The chat room displayed cyberbullying behavior between a supposed student and nasty help desk administrator, but most of the witnesses did nothing to come to the victim’s defense. Seventy percent of the students who did notice the cyberbullying, however, did indirectly intervene by giving the bully or the chat room negative reviews when later asked to provide feedback.

The bottom line on cyberbullying is that it doesn’t appear to fade with age, although discussing the issue with your anxious child can be helpful at any stage of their lives. In fact, the second study noted supporting the victim may even be more helpful than confronting the bully in some cases.


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