Cyberbullying Linked to Increase in Depression Among Female College Students

cyberbullyingAs social media, texting and internet use have become a part of daily life, researchers have observed the strong presence of cyberbullying and have begun to show concern about its effects. And while many may presume that bullying is mostly a problem in in the gradeschool years, a new study shows that college students are engaging in these behaviors as well.

The study led by Dr. Ellen Selkie, adolescent medicine doctor at Seattle Children’s Hospital and researcher in the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development, published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found that more than 1 in 4 females have experienced cyberbullying in college, thus increasing their risk for depression three-fold. Furthermore, the study found that those who acted as the bullies were more likely to report problematic alcohol abuse and also depression.

“Many people think of college as a time that adolescents can leave behind the problems they may have had in high school, such as bullying, but this study shows that’s not necessarily the case. And with depression and alcohol use already being major concerns for college students, it’s important to look at potential triggers,” said Selkie.

New angle to previous research

In the study, 265 female students from 4 colleges completed online surveys assessing involvement in cyberbullying behaviors. Participants also completed the Patient Health Questionnaire to assess depressive symptoms and the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test to assess problem drinking.

The study found college girls who reported being cyberbullied were more likely to meet clinical criteria for depression. And if the cyberbullying was connected to unwanted sexual advances (such as sexting or other explicit messages), the odds of depression doubled.

While previous cyberbullying research has largely focused on younger adolescents, this study is unique in that it explores the phenomenon in college students, specifically females. This new, targeted focus is critical given that college students are among the most frequent users of digital technology and females are more likely to be involved in and distressed by cyberbullying.

Making the cyberbullying connection

“Whether you are a parent, friend, counselor or doctor, it’s important to realize that signs of depression and/or alcohol abuse in college-aged women may be linked to or caused by cyberbullying,” said Selkie, who encourages both bullies and victims to seek help through college counseling services. “If you are being bullied, take time away from social media and the internet to get the support of family and friends in-person versus online.”