Understanding the Health Risks of Cyberbullying in College

How college students are impacted by cyberbullying

Upset girl on smartphone

When someone mentions cyberbullying, most people think of a group of middle school or high school mean girls posting nasty comments online. Not many people think about college students dealing with cyberbullying. In fact, no one thought much about cyberbullying in college at all until an 18-year-old Rutgers University student jumped off the George Washington Bridge following an incident in which his roommate posted compromising videos of him online.

In some ways, cyberbullying can be harder to deal with in college because the students are living out of the house for the first time. They do not have their family and friends to turn to for support. Plus, they are already stressed out about everything from money to their heavy course load. So the stress that cyberbullying causes can seem crushing at times.

The Impact of Cyberbullying on College Students

Cyberbullying and its effects have been studied largely in middle and high school students. For instance, it is not uncommon for cyberbullying to increase the risk for depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, anger issues and even truancy. But less is known about the effects of cyberbullying in college students. Yet, they are the most frequent users of technology and social media sites.

But a study from the University of Washington hopes to shed some light on the issue of college cyberbullying.

In fact, the study’s researchers found that college age females are just as likely to suffer the negative effects of cyberbullying as high school and middle school students.

The study, which interviewed 265 female college students, also found that girls who reported being cyberbullied were three times more likely to meet clinical guidelines for depression.

And if the cyberbullying was connected to unwanted sexual advances, such as sexual bullying, the odds of depression doubled.

What’s more, a survey about online harassment by the Pew Research Center found 26% of 18-24 year-old-women say they've been stalked online, while 25% say they were the target of online sexual harassment. So it certainly is a problem that should not be overlooked.

Meanwhile, cyberbullies suffer too. Girls who bully have a four times higher risk for depression than those who don't. The study also found they're also more likely to have a drinking problem. In fact, it is the bullies who struggle more with alcohol abuse than the victims.

Where Victims of College Cyberbullying Can Go for Help

Students who are being cyberbullied should be encouraged to get help. For instance, they can visit their college’s clinic to talk about their experience, their feelings of depression or their substance abuse. And if they have a solid relationship with their parents, they should alert them to their struggles.

Or, they should be encouraged to talk with a trusted adult on campus. The key is that they reach out for help rather than trying to deal with the issue on their own.

Because college students have grown up digital, the impact of cyberbullying can be immense. For most adults who did not grow up with online access, they can see a distinction between the offline world and an online world. But for college students, the online world is their world. There is no distinction for them. As a result, trying to live with cyberbullying can be excruciating and debilitating. More colleges need to develop programs for dealing with cyberbullying on campus.

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