Both cyberbullies and their victims can suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a new British study finds.
Cyberbullying is bullying online rather than in person. It's so pervasive that pediatricians should routinely ask their patients about it as part of psychological assessment, the researchers said.
"Parents, teachers and health professionals need to be aware of possible PTSD symptoms in young people involved in cyberbullying," said study author Ana Pascual-Sánchez and colleagues. She's in the psychiatry division at Imperial College London.
Cyberbullying among teenagers is estimated to range from 10% to 40%, said the researchers. Because it can be done anonymously day or night, it poses special risks, they noted.
For the study, Pascual-Sánchez and her team collected data on more than 2,200 11- to 19-year-olds from four London schools who were surveyed about their experiences.
The survey found that 46% had a history of any kind of bullying: 17% were victims; 12% were perpetrators; and 4% were both.
Traditional bullying was more common than cyberbullying, the researchers found.
Still, about 13% of the teens had been cyberbullied; 8.5% had bullied others online; and 4% had been both victims and perpetrators.
About 16% of the kids had been bullied in person; 12% had bullied others in person; and 7% had been both victims and perpetrators, the researchers found.
There was some overlap between types of bullying.
About 1,500 kids completed a PTSD assessment that screened for intrusive thoughts and avoidance behaviors. The researchers found that those who had been victims of cyberbullying were more likely to have symptoms of PTSD (35%) compared to 29% of cyberbullies, and 28% of those who were both cyberbullied and cyberbullies.
This study can't prove that cyberbullying causes PTSD, only that they seem to be associated, the researchers said.
The report was published online June 23 in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
"Despite cyberbullying being less frequent than traditional bullying, it is noteworthy that more than a third of the cyberbullies were not involved in traditional bullying, whereas a huge majority of the cyberbully victims were involved in traditional bullying, mainly as traditional victims or [as both victim and perpetrator]," the authors said in a journal news release.
"This suggests that the anonymity provided to perpetrators online may constitute a new platform for bullying to occur," they added.
For more on cyberbullying, go to Stopbullying.gov.