NEWTON, MA | November 17, 2011
High school students who are victims of cyberbullying and school bullying are more likely to report elevated mental distress and lower school performance, according to a study conducted by EDC researchers to be published online November 17 by the American Journal of Public Health.
The study, funded by the MetroWest Health Foundation, included more than 20,000 high school students in 22 communities in the MetroWest region of Boston and documented the prevalence of cyberbullying and school bullying victimization. The study also explored associations of bullying with school performance, school attachment, and psychological distress, including depressive symptoms, self-injury, and suicide attempts.
“We found that youth who were victims of cyberbullying and/or school bullying were also more likely to report lower grades in school, and more likely to experience depressive symptoms or attempt suicide,” said EDC’s Shari Kessel Schneider. “While our study was not designed to identify a causal relationship, the findings underscore the need for prevention and intervention efforts to address both forms of bullying and their associations with student well-being inside and outside of school.”
EDC researchers found that 15.8 percent of students reported cyberbullying, and 25.9 percent reported school bullying in the past 12 months. Nearly 1 in 10 students (9.4 percent) were victims of both forms of bullying. They also identified subgroups of youth that are especially vulnerable to bullying victimization, for example:
- Reports of cyberbullying are more common among girls than boys. 18.3 percent of girls compared to 13.2 percent of boys reported being victims of cyberbullying. For school bullying, victimization was similar for both genders: 25.1 percent for girls and 26.6 percent for boys.
- Non-heterosexually identified youths are at particular risk of victimization. These youths were more likely than heterosexually identified youths to report cyberbullying (33.1 percent vs. 14.5 percent) and school bullying victimization (42.3 percent vs. 24.8 percent).
The study also highlights a link between victimization and reports of mental distress. For example:
- Victims of cyberbullying and school bullying are more likely to report depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms were highest among victims of both cyberbullying and school bullying (47 percent), followed by victims who reported only cyberbullying (33.9 percent) and victims who reported only school bullying (26.6 percent), as compared to non-victims (13.6 percent).
- Cyberbullying and school bullying victims are also more likely to report suicide attempts. Attempted suicide was highest among victims of both forms of bullying (15.2 percent). Suicide attempts were also elevated among cyber-only victims (9.4 percent) and school-only victims (4.2 percent), compared to non-victims (2.0 percent).
Additionally, EDC researchers documented a link between bullying and self-reported school performance and school attachment. Both cyberbullying and school bullying victimization were associated with grades. Victims were also less likely to agree with such statements as “I feel like I am part of this school” and “I am happy to be at this school.” Even though cyberbullying most often takes place outside of school, students who were victims of only cyberbullying also reported poorer grades and lower school attachment.
“This study provides a better understanding of cyberbullying and its relationship to school bullying, and it highlights the vulnerabilities of girls and non-heterosexually identified youth to victimization, especially through cyberbullying,” said Kessel Schneider. “Our findings illustrate the need for prevention efforts to address all forms of bullying victimization and to engage parents, schools, and other community members in combating this significant public health issue.” The full study is available online at www.ajph.org. Members of the American Public Health Association may access it for free; for others a fee is required. The full study will appear in print in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), is a global nonprofit organization that addresses urgent challenges in education, health, and economic opportunity. EDC manages 350 projects in 35 countries. Visit www.edc.org.
MetroWest Health Foundation is an independent philanthropy providing over $5 million in annual financial support to address the health needs of 25 communities in the MetroWest area of Massachusetts. Visit www.mwhealth.org.