Nav: Home

Cyberbullying Linked to Increased Depression and PTSD

January 21, 2020

Cyberbullying had the impact of amplifying symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in young people who were inpatients at an adolescent psychiatric hospital, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The study addressed both the prevalence and factors related to cyberbullying in adolescent inpatients.

"Even against a backdrop of emotional challenges in the kids we studied, we noted cyberbullying had an adverse impact. It's real and should be assessed," said Philip D. Harvey, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who co-authored the paper "Cyberbullying and Its Relationship to Current Symptoms and History of Early Life Trauma."

He says children with a history of being abused were found to be more likely to be cyberbullied, suggesting that assessments for childhood trauma should also include assessments for cyberbullying. Likewise, children who report being cyberbullied should be assessed for a history of childhood trauma.

"Cyberbullying is possibly more pernicious than other forms of bullying because of its reach," Dr. Harvey says. "The bullying can be viral and persistent. To really be bullying, it has to be personal - a directly negative comment attempting to make the person feel bad."

The study helped to confirm other facts about cyberbullying:
  • Being online regularly or the amount of time spent on social media weren't determining factors in who was cyberbullied.
  • Cyberbullying cuts across all economic classes and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Adolescents who have been bullied in the past had a higher risk of being bullied again.
Studying Cyberbullying's Impact on an Inpatient Psychiatric Population

The study of 50 adolescent psychiatric inpatients ages 13 to 17 examined the prevalence of cyberbullying and related it to social media usage, current levels of symptoms and histories of adverse early life experience.

Conducted from September 2016 to April 2017 at a suburban psychiatric hospital in Westchester County, New York, the study asked participants to complete two childhood trauma questionnaires and a cyberbullying questionnaire.

Twenty percent of participants reported that they had been cyberbullied within the last two months before their admission. Half of the participants were bullied by text messages and half on Facebook. Transmitted pictures or videos, Instagram, instant messages and chat rooms were other cyberbullying vehicles.

Those who had been bullied had significantly higher severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anger, and fantasy dissociation than those who were not bullied.

Links to Childhood Trauma

Participants who reported being cyberbullied also reported significantly higher levels of lifetime emotional abuse on the study's Childhood Trauma Questionnaire than those who were not bullied. These same young people did not report a significantly higher level of other types of trauma (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect or physical neglect).

Further studies are needed to establish whether there may be some unique consequence of childhood emotional abuse that makes troubled teens more likely to experience or report cyberbullying.


While all of the participants in this study were psychiatric inpatients, those who had been bullied had significantly higher scores on PTSD, depression, anger, and dissociation scales than those who were not bullied. Dr. Harvey says this finding is consistent with past research.

Dr. Harvey encourages psychologists, psychiatrists and other counselors to routinely ask young people if they were abused or traumatized when they were younger and whether they are being bullied now.

He says adding these questions to the clinical evaluation of adolescents may bring to light symptoms that may have otherwise been ignored. Additionally, factors that may be causing or contributing to those symptoms can be targeted for specific intervention.

Parents and adolescents can take action to discourage bullying, Dr. Harvey says. "It's not hard to block someone on the Internet, whether it's texting, Facebook, Twitter, or sending pictures. Ask why are people choosing you to bully? If it's something you're posting, assess that and make a change."

Dr. Harvey collaborated on the study with Samantha Block Saltz, M.D., also with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and David L. Pogge, Ph.D., of Winds Hospital in Katonah, New York.
To obtain a copy of the University of Miami Modified Cyberbullying Questionnaire, contact Dr. Harvey at The questionnaire can be used by clinicians and parents and takes only a few minutes to complete.

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Related Depression Articles:

A biological mechanism for depression
Researchers report that in depressed individuals there are increased amounts of an unmodified structural protein, called tubulin, in lipid rafts compared with non-depressed individuals.
Depression in adults who are overweight or obese
In an analysis of primary care records of 519,513 UK adults who were overweight or obese between 2000-2016 and followed up until 2019, the incidence of new cases of depression was 92 per 10,000 people per year.
Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.
Which comes first: Smartphone dependency or depression?
New research suggests a person's reliance on his or her smartphone predicts greater loneliness and depressive symptoms, as opposed to the other way around.
Depression breakthrough
Major depressive disorder -- referred to colloquially as the 'black dog' -- has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases, providing vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.
CPAP provides relief from depression
Researchers have found that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can improve depression symptoms in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
Post-natal depression in dads linked to depression in their teenage daughters
Fathers as well as mothers can experience post-natal depression -- and it is linked to emotional problems for their teenage daughters, new research has found.
Being overweight likely to cause depression, even without health complications
A largescale genomic analysis has found the strongest evidence yet that being overweight causes depression, even in the absence of other health problems.
Don't let depression keep you from exercising
Exercise may be just as crucial to a depression patient's good health as finding an effective antidepressant.
Having an abortion does not lead to depression
Having an abortion does not increase a woman's risk for depression, according to a new University of Maryland School of Public Health-led study of nearly 400,000 women.
More Depression News and Depression Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at