Effects of Cyberbullying on Victims’ Mental Health Outcomes

Published: 2023/07/05 Number of words: 1407


Numerous studies have been undertaken to understand the construct of bullying, especially owing to its reputation as a schoolyard problem that many children and adolescents have encountered. Indeed, peer bullying at school has become so prevalent that it is now an international concern. Bullying can be defined as the intentional harming of an individual or a group, through physical confrontation or by intimidation through electronic media, over a period, in instances where the victims cannot often defend themselves (Hendricks and Tanga, 2019). In a school setting, bullying has been attributed with multiple negative outcomes by disrupting the academic work of the victims and often leading to dropouts and even suicides. Often, bullying occurs in setting where individuals cannot determine the group they want to join, as is the case with children at school, where it is compared to being ‘caged’. To establish a hierarchy within the social network, bullies will often try to exert their power and influence, which often has detrimental effects. Vitally, with the increased uptake of digital tools, especially among adolescents and young adults, bullying has extended into cyberspace, whereby cyberbullying is now commonplace and rampant. Considering that contemporary society is intricately intertwined with digital communication media, the current study aims to highlight the effects of cyberbullying on the health outcomes of victims.

Previous studies on the effects of bullying on the victims have pointed to the development of both internalising and externalising problems that are significant mental health challenges.  Cyberbullying can be understood as an intentionally harmful behaviour, which repeatedly occurs over time, and is orchestrated via electronic media. It may take different forms, including sending harassing messages, posting demeaning comments on social networking sites, and threatening someone (Kowalski and Limber, 2007). Unfortunately, cyberbullying has somehow been accepted, especially among adolescents. Compared to traditional forms of bullying, the risk with it is that it reaches a vast audience and preserves both the messages and images in a somewhat permanent state (Patchin and Hinduja, 2006).  In a survey documented by the Pew Research Centre, about 60 per cent of American teenagers had experienced some form of cyberbullying, highlighting the exponential rise of cyberbullying incidents over the past few years (Schodt et al., 2021). The increase has coincided with the increased uptake of social media across different segments of populations across the globe, signifying a shift from cyber utilisation to cyber immersion. The internet has become a primary and necessary means of communication.

As such, though the focus of most studies on cyberbullying has been on children and teenagers, cyberbullying and its allied phenomena, including online harassment, cyber-aggression, and cyber-incivility, remain real problems for adults as well. Previous studies have indicated a significant relationship between a person’s involvement in cyberbullying – particularly as a victim, and affective disorders. For instance, high levels of victimisation through cyberbullying have been credited with increased rates of depression among adolescents and college students (Nixon, 2014). Notably, a significant proportion of victims of cyberbullying (up to 93 per cent in some studies) have reported experiencing feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and powerlessness, which are indicators of depression. Vitally, psychosomatic complaints have been found extensively among victims of cyberbullying, thus affirming the notion that cyberbullying contributes extensively to the depressive states of victims. Furthermore, cyberbullying has been conceptualised as a stressor; for instance, in a study detailed by Nixon (2014), a significant proportion of victims of cyberbullying reported having at least one stress symptom. In addition, those targeted through online harassment have indicated having increased rates of trauma symptoms. Similarly, in a survey focused on understanding the extent of cyberbullying among adolescents, the findings indicate that a significant proportion of the respondents reported being emotionally distressed. Anxiety also stands out as a common effect of the bullying where the victims feel concerned about their safety, especially since most of them do not know the perpetrators of the bullying, resulting in heightened fear regarding the identity of those attacking them.

Studies on the effects of cyberbullying have pointed to an association between involvement in cyberbullying and an increased propensity for suicide, especially among adolescents and young adults. The positive correlation determined between adolescents’ involvement in cyberbullying and suicidal behaviour, as detailed by Nixon (2014), indicates that the more the adolescents are involved in cyberbullying, the higher the likelihood of them engaging in suicidal behaviour. Substance use and involvement in physical violence that often emerges as ways of coping with cyberbullying tended to exacerbate the tendency to view suicide as a suitable route for ending the hopelessness. The victimisation of young people online has gained increased scrutiny, particularly over the past decade following a spate of high-profile suicides among teenagers who were reportedly the victims of cyberbullying on different social networking sites. For instance, in 2013, a series of suicides were linked to the social networking site Ask. fm, which allowed users to ask each other questions anonymously. The suicides were of teens who had reportedly been bullied on the site, which prompted Ask.fm to institute new safety measures. Likewise, in 2015, Twitter announced plans to filter out abusive tweets and suspend bullies on its site (Pappas, 2015). That view is underscored by a study detailed by Litwiller and Brausch (2013), in which they found that drugs and substance abuse, as well as violent behaviour, were some of the coping processes that victims of cyberbullying engaged in as a way of addressing the psychological pain that emanates from the bullying.

Cyberbullying has also been credited with the advent of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims. In a study detailed by Mateu et al. (2020), in which they sought to determine the mental health effects of cyberbullying on adolescents, the findings were that there is a significant overlap between traditional bullying and cyberbullying. That is especially in the mental health impacts on both victims and victim-perpetrators, whereby there was a close association with different types of PTSD symptoms. Around a third of the cyber victims displayed symptoms of clinically significant PTSD. At the same time, they also reported experiencing more intrusive thoughts and avoidance behaviours, in which they would avoid situations related to trauma. Crucially, as a result of PTSD, the victims’ bodies remain in a perpetual state of flight, which poses a significant effect on the brain’s structure and is especially perilous to the development process of an adolescent’s brain. Therefore, cyberbullying stands out as a significant contributor to PTSD among the victims.


The extensive uptake of digital tools in contemporary society, especially for communication, has coincided with the advent of the cyberbullying phenomenon. There is a striking similarity between the effects of conventional bullying and cyberbullying in that they both present significant challenges to the physical and psychological well-being of the victims. That said, the construct of cyberbullying, such as the inability to pinpoint the bully, coupled with the vast audience that it can reach, serves to exacerbate some of its effects on victims. Furthermore, the fact that the bullying occurs in cyberspace often means that in most cases, it is almost impossible to tell the bullying is taking place, and often, the victims opt to remain quiet. As a result, some of the reported mental health effects of cyberbullying include depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

List of References

Hendricks, E. and Tanga, P., 2019. Effects of Bullying on the Psychological Functioning of Victims. Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development, 31(1), pp.1 – 17.

Kowalski, R. and Limber, S., 2007. Electronic Bullying Among Middle School Students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(6), pp.S22-S30.

Litwiller, B. and Brausch, A., 2013. Cyber Bullying and Physical Bullying in Adolescent Suicide: The Role of Violent Behaviour and Substance Use. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(5), pp.675-684.

Mateu, A., Pascual-Sánchez, A., Martinez-Herves, M., Hickey, N., Nicholls, D. and Kramer, T., 2020. Cyberbullying and post-traumatic stress symptoms in UK adolescents. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 105(10), pp.951-956.

Nixon, C., 2014. Current perspectives: the impact of cyberbullying on adolescent health. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 5, pp.143 – 158.

Pappas, S., 2015. Social Media Cyber Bullying Linked to Teen Depression. [Online] Scientific American. Available at: <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/social-media-cyber-bullying-linked-to-teen-depression/> [Accessed 14 October 2021].

Patchin, J. and Hinduja, S., 2006. Bullies Move beyond the Schoolyard. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 4(2), pp.148-169.

Schodt, K., Quiroz, S., Wheeler, B., Hall, D. and Silva, Y., 2021. Cyberbullying and Mental Health in Adults: The Moderating Role of Social Media Use and Gender. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12, pp.1 – 14.

Cite this page

Choose cite format:
Online Chat Messenger Email
+44 800 520 0055