A new LSE study on the link between cyber-bullying and suicide has found that ten per cent of children are involved in cyber-bullying, as victims, perpetrators or both, and that they are much more likely to view web content containing self-harm and suicide. It calls for more web-based prevention and intervention strategies to tackle the issue.
The report explains that public interest in cyber-bullying has been spurred by media coverage depicting cases of young people who have attempted suicide as a consequence. However, media reports often appear to exaggerate the prevalence of cyber-bullying as well as the direct causal link with suicidal behaviours. Nonetheless, there is evidence showing that being involved in cyber-bullying, as a victim, bully or both, increases the risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and self-harm. The risk has been linked to the viewing of websites where suicide-related content is discussed.
The new study, by Dr Anke Görzig of LSE's Department of Media and Communications and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of West London, investigates adolescents' viewing of web content related to self-harm and suicide, as well as their psychological problems, while differentiating between three cyber-bullying roles (bullies, victims or bully-victims).
Data came from the LSE EU Kids Online study, a random sample of 25,000 Internet-using European children aged 9-16.
Six per cent of the sample reported being a cyber-victim, 2.4 per cent a cyber-bully and 1.7 per cent both (cyber-bully victims).
In the full sample, viewing web content containing self-harm was reported by 6.8 per cent and suicide by 4.3 per cent. 4.1 per cent were classified as having emotional problems, 16.8 per cent behavioural problems and 15.8 per cent had problems in relating to their peers.
A small proportion of those not involved in bullying viewed web content related to self-harm or suicide. However about one-fifth of cyber-victims and cyber-bullies and about one third of cyberbully-victims had viewed content with self-harm. Viewing of web content relating to suicide showed higher rates among cyber- victims and cyber-bully victims, but not among cyber-bullies when compared to those not involved.
Compared to those not involved, the odds of viewing web content related to self-harm were twice as high for cyber-victims and cyber-bullies and three to four times as high for cyber-bully-victims. The odds of viewing web content related to suicide were two to three times as high for cyber-victims and cyber-bully victims.
Dr Görzig concludes: "The findings add new insight into the specific association of each cyber-bullying role… It appears that cyberbully-victims are perhaps the most vulnerable groups and arguably the most in need of support for various psychological problems."
She adds: "There is some indication that a significant proportion of youths involved in cyber-bullying, who also consider suicide-related behaviours, are amenable to support from web resources. Hence intervention strategies targeting those involved in cyber-bullying and suicide-related behaviours might consider investigating the use of Internet platforms for their implementation."
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