Cyber bullies and their victims more at risk from mental health problems

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Playground bullying has always existed but cyber bullying is an undesirable product of modern society and is a term used to describe the actions of people who use the internet or mobile phones to intimidate or bully others.

Now a Finnish study led by Dr. Andre Sourander, from Turku University has found that both the cyber bullies and their victims are more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as emotional distress and concentration problems as well as physical symptoms such as headaches and abdominal pain, and loss of sleep.

The definition of cyber bullying used by the researchers was aggressive, intentional, repeated acts using mobile phones and computers, including the use of emails and social networking sites like Facebook, or indeed other electronic media against victims who cannot easily defend themselves.

The study involved a survey of around 2,215 teenagers aged between 13 and 16 years of age and analysis of the data revealed that more than 7 percent of them had indulged in online bullying, just under 5 percent reported that they had been targets of online bullying and just over 5 percent said they had both bullied and been bullied online.

The researchers discovered that those who had been victims of bullying were more likely to come from broken homes and to have emotional and behavioural problems.

The Cyber bullies were also more likely to suffer from similar emotional and behavioural problems and in addition to this often had trouble communicating with others and were more likely to participate in behaviour such as smoking and drinking.

“Of those who had been victimized, one in four reported that it had resulted in fear for their safety” the researchers wrote.

“The feeling of being unsafe is probably worse in cyber bullying compared with traditional bullying” the authors said in a statement.

The reason for this is that traditional bullying typically occurs on school grounds, so once victims return home they can feel safe again, whereas with cyber bullying, “the victims are accessible and at risk 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.

The researchers are advising parents, teachers and children to be aware of the harm that cyber bullying can cause and that parents should be familiar with their child’s use of the internet.

The Finnish study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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