The Connection Between Cyberbullying and Suicidal Ideation
Social media and the internet have changed a lot about the ways we communicate with each other – including opening up the door to cyberbullying and the very real-life consequences it can lead to.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying the intentional use of online platforms to harass another person. It can be done through any digital medium, though a lot of cyberbullying happens in a pretty predictable place: social media.
Of course, there’s not much of a difference between the online bullying of today and the in-person bullying of the past. (And certainly the latter still happens.) Both can take an extreme mental and emotional toll on the individual who is being harassed, and both can result in self-harm behaviors or suicidal ideation.
What makes cyberbullying different is that it can come from strangers and is hard for kids – and even adults – to escape. And that can lead to very real, very troubling mental health problems for those who are affected.
Social Media and Cyberbullying
It seems that no one is safe from online vitriol. From celebrities and viral content creators getting hit with thousands of mean comments to everyday users getting harassed by people they do and do not know, social media is a breeding ground for bullies who feel empowered to say things they likely wouldn’t say in person. There is a term for these bullies: keyboard warriors, which refers to people who behave poorly online but not necessarily in real life.
Unfortunately, online bullying is just as powerful as in-person bullying. We see this in the many reality stars who have died by suicide after facing online harassment (recent reports put the number of reality contestant suicide deaths at 38). And we also see it in the real world, with online harassment leading to poor self-esteem, depression, isolation, and, in some cases, suicide or suicidal ideation.
Cyberbullying and Suicide
Research from the National Institutes of Health found a clear link between online bullying and suicidal thoughts and attempts in preteens. According to the researchers, survey participants who experienced online bullying were 4x as likely to report thoughts of suicide, and mental health effects were independent from those caused by in-person bullying.
Additional cyberbullying and suicide statistics further stress the scope of the problem:
- More than 60% of cyberbullied students report impacts on their ability to learn and feel safe at school.
- Suicidal thoughts and attempts doubled among adolescents between 2008 and 2018.
- Victims of online bullying are 1.9x more likely to attempt suicide than those who aren’t victims.
Online Bullying and Mental Health
To understand why online bullying leads to higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts, it helps to understand the effect this type of bullying can have on mental health.
The impact of online bullying on adolescent mental health includes depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, lowered self-esteem and confidence, heightened stress, and aggression. Adolescents may also struggle with school, relationships, and physical health.
Together and on their own, each of these mental health effects is a possible trigger for suicidal thoughts. This makes it essential to be aware of the dangers of online bullying and to take action if it starts happening to you or someone you care about.
What to Do About Online Bullying
In Japan, online bullying is punishable by fines or up to a year in jail. Here in the U.S., we don’t have similar laws in the books, but do have some tools to protect ourselves and others. The best thing parents and kids can do is to limit social media exposure and block any harassing individuals. If online bullying gets serious, you can also report incidents to schools, or even the police.
A word to the wise: the only opinions that matter are from those who you trust, know, and love – and who love you in return. And everything else? It’s just noise.
For support and additional guidance, learn more about Synergy Health Programs and our mental health services.