Both cyberbullies and their victims seem more likely to report physical and psychiatric symptoms than other teens, a Finnish study finds.
The researchers' definition of cyberbullying included aggressive, intentional, repeated acts using phones, computers or other electronic forms of contact.
In Tuesday's issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers in Finland looked at the health reported by 2,215 Finnish teens in Grades 7 and 9 in 2008.
The majority of victims who were repeatedly attacked online said they perceived a definite or severe amount of difficulty in their lives, ranging from headaches and physical pain to trouble sleeping.
Of the respondents who said they had been victimized, one in four reported fear for their safety.
In total, 4.8 per cent of the participants were victims of cyberbullying, 7.4 per cent were cyberbullies and 5.4 per cent were both victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullies reported difficulties with emotions, concentration, behaviour, or getting along with other people, psychiatric symptoms such as hyperactivity problems, conduct problems, frequently smoking or getting drunk, headaches and not feeling safe at school.
Those who were both a cyberbully and cybervictim were linked to all of the above conditions, the researchers found.
Cyberbullying difficult to escape
"The feeling of being unsafe is probably worse in cyberbullying compared with traditional bullying," Dr. Andre Sourander of Turku University and co-authors wrote.
"Traditional bullying typically occurs on school grounds, so victims are safe at least within their homes. With cyberbullying, victims are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Rapid changes in technology, anonymity of the perpetrator and the potentially large audience make cyberbullying more complicated to prevent than traditional bullying, the researchers said.
"Policy makers, educators, parents, and adolescents themselves should be aware of the potentially harmful effects of cyberbullying. Future research is needed on whether antibullying policies, materials, interventions, and mobile telephone and internet user guidelines are effective for reducing cyberbullying," the study's authors concluded.
More research is also needed to look for any links between cyberbullying and later mental health distress, the study's authors said.
In 2008, a study commissioned by the Canadian Teachers' Federation suggested that 34 per cent of Canadians surveyed knew of students in their community who had been targeted by cyberbullying in the past year, and almost one in 10 knew someone close to them who had been cyberbullied.
A U.S. survey on internet use by those aged 10 to 17 suggested 12 per cent reported being aggressive to someone online, four per cent were targets of aggression and three per cent were both aggressors and targets.
The Finnish study was funded by the country's Pediatric Research Foundation and by the Finnish-Swedish Medical Association.