Cyberbullying has been at the root of a number of high profile suicides over the past year. As the bullying epidemic expands, doctors and therapists are seeing less headline-grabbing health consequences affecting both victims and bullies.
The health concerns are what you’d expect: depression, anxiety, and an elevated risk of suicide. What’s interesting is that they affect anyone involved in cyberbullying, either as a victim or an aggressor. Doctors are also starting to see cyberbullying as a health problem in it’s own right. As American Medical News reports:
“Like almost any disease, the earlier we recognize [cyberbullying] and treat it, almost without exception, the better the outcome will be,” said Henry J. Gault, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Deerfield, Ill.
Mental health professionals are now encouraging primary care doctors to screen for cyberbullying risk factors during routine appointments.
The screening questions seem almost laughable: doctors are being encouraged to ask patients if they use the Internet or a cell phone. If a kid answers yes to either question, they’re considered at risk for cyberbullying.
That would be just about all teens, right? 75% of teens have cell phones, and about 75% use social media networks like Facebook online. A lot of those kids are being bullied. 43% of teens reported being victimized by cyberbullying at some point.
Since both the bullies and the victims are at risk for other mental health problems, it’s important to identify them. That can be tricky, since teenagers aren’t always forthcoming about their personal relationships. Questions from doctors can uncover some cases.
Parents and teachers are also important touchpoints for troubled teens. The more open you can keep communication with teens in your life, the better chance you’ll have of catching a problem before it gets out of hand.