Online bashing and mental health
By now social media users know the double-edged reality of living lives on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like. While the technology offers tremendous benefits that have changed the way we live—from connecting and keeping in touch with friends and loved ones to keeping ourselves updated about the world—the platform has also served to unleash unsavory, destructive forces peculiar to the instantaneous, viral character of the medium. The rise of fake news is one; the prevalence of cyberbullying is another.
To compound the problem, online bashing appears to be acute among a particularly vulnerable group: young people. In the United States, for instance, per a CNN report, a 2015 study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics showed that “23 percent of teens report they are or have been the target of cyberbullying. Another 15 percent admitted to bullying someone else online.” This negative behavior has worrying consequences: “The researchers’ review of 10 studies that explored the link between social media victimization and depression all showed—without exception—a significant correlation.”
Bullying among kids and teens is an age-old phenomenon, but social media, with its ability to attract hordes of users to swarm on an intended object or person in a matter of minutes, represents a frightening new frontier for many young people struggling with issues of evolving identity, self-regard and sense of belonging. A study last year by Kaspersky Lab and iconKids & Youth found that 16 percent of the children surveyed said they are more afraid of being bullied online than offline, and seven out of 10 bullied children admitted to experiencing trauma. Among the traumatic effects that parents reported seeing in their children were disrupted sleep, lower self-esteem, poorer performance at school, eating disorders, and depression.
The Kaspersky survey also revealed that many children would rather hide incidents of cyberbullying from their parents, preferring to bottle up their conflicted feelings. This inability to open up may lead to depressive behaviors and anxiety disorders that may not be immediately noticeable, or addressed in time. According to an October 2016 story in Time magazine, “many people do not seek help for anxiety and depression. A 2015 report from the Child Mind Institute found that only about 20 percent of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment.”
Friday last week was World Health Day; this year’s theme was “Depression: Let’s Talk.” Locally, Department of Health spokesperson Enrique Tayag specifically dwelled on the issue of what he called the “new face of depression on social media,” with online bashing seen as a new front that may be contributing to a spike in the number of people afflicted by depression, even thoughts of suicide, after adverse interactions online. While the DOH admits that local data on cyberbullying are still being gathered, on depression itself it cites the report by the National Center for Mental Health that there were 3,479 callers to the Hopeline suicide prevention hotlines in 2016.
The need for more Philippine studies along the lines that have been conducted abroad on online bashing, especially among adolescents, is urgent and acute. The Philippines reportedly leads the world in terms of most time spent on social media each day; and “six out of 10 young people aged 15 to 24 years old are regular internet users and more than half have social network and email accounts,” according to a study on media use and youth lifestyle by Dr. Grace Cruz released by the Demographic Research and Development Foundation and the University of the Philippines Population Institute.
That study was done in 2014 yet. The online landscape has, in many ways, become even more vicious since then. How it’s affecting the mental health of Filipinos plugged into it 24/7 should be an ongoing concern.