Cyberbullying can lead to post-traumatic stress for both victims and bullies, experts say

Cyberbullying can lead to post-traumatic stress (PTS) for both victims and bullies, the first study of its kind suggests.

Experts from Imperial College London found that cyberbullying can lead to intrusive, repetitive thoughts and flashbacks, as well as avoidance behaviours such as refusing to talk about an experience or avoiding certain people and places.

Writing online in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, they analysed data from four secondary schools in London.

From a sample of 2,218 pupils aged 11 to 19, they found a “significant overlap between traditional bullying and cyberbullying”.

From the total group, 13% said they had been cyber victims, 8% cyberbullies and 4% both cyber victims and cyberbullies.

Some 16% had been the victim of traditional bullying, 12% had been traditional bullies and 7% had been both traditional bullies and victims.

Some 52% of cyber victims were also traditional victims and 48% of the cyberbullies were also traditional bullies.

A significant proportion of those who were cyber victims (280 children or 35%), or cyberbullies (178 children or 29%) showed signs of post-traumtic stress, the researchers found.

The team concluded: “Cyberbullying, as victim only or as a victim-perpetrator, seems to be associated with multiple types of PTS symptoms.

“Cyber and traditional victimisation significantly predicted intrusion and avoidance.

“Paediatricians, general practitioners and mental health professionals need to be aware of possible PTS symptoms in young people involved in cyberbullying.

“Screening and early cost-effective treatments could be implemented.”

From the sample, just over half the teenagers were girls (55%), 34% were white and two thirds were from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds.

Most of the children (80%) had been born in the UK.

Commenting on the figures, Wendy Robinson, service head for NSPCC Childline, said: “Thousands of children every year confide in us about their experiences of cyberbullying, and tell us it can feel impossible to escape.

“It is vital that any child who is being bullied speaks up as soon as possible. We know that as well as making life unbearable whilst it is happening, without the right support at the right time, the effects of bullying can be felt long into adulthood.

“It is also important that any young person who is doing the bullying receives help, as there could be an underlying reason for this behaviour.”

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