Bullying and Cyberbullying

The issue of bullying has garnered national attention in recent years, sparking much debate and a demand for stricter laws to punish both bullies and their parents or guardians, as it has wreaked havoc on the mental and physical well-being of so many children in the United States.

While bullying can happen almost anywhere, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services points out that most reported bullying happens in school, with a significant percentage taking place on playgrounds or buses. There are also many incidents taking place on the Internet, a major issue in the country known as cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying takes place over digital devices such as cell phones, computers and tablets and can happen via text, apps, social media or anywhere on the web that allows users to share content. Cyberbullying often includes sending, posting or sharing negative, false and harmful things about someone else. This includes sharing personal information, which can cause embarrassment or humiliation.

Dr. Mayank Gupta, medical director of psychiatry at Penn Highlands Healthcare, specializes in child/adolescent psychiatry and treats patients of all ages at Penn Highlands DuBois East off Maple Avenue in DuBois. He pointed out that “developing self-esteem and confidence in the social arena is integral for adolescents.”

“Cyberbullying is unique when compared to in-person bullying,” Gupta said. This type of bullying is persistent, meaning it can be difficult for children experiencing it to find relief because their aggressors have the ability to communicate continuously, day in and day out.

Additionally, cyberbullying is permanent, meaning that most of the information being posted is public, able to be shared and often very difficult to have removed. “The effects of this bullying are everlasting and very far reaching,” Gupta said, adding that negative online reputations of those bullied can impact other areas of their lives including college admissions or future employment.

Bullying can affect anyone – those who are bullied, the ones who bully and others who witness the bullying. It has been linked to many negative outcomes that include impacts on mental health, substance abuse and suicide.

“An analogy that I’ll share is that bullying is like radioactive material,” Gupta said. “If you were attacked with this radioactive material, you may not notice serious effects right away. Instead, over time, this encounter will simmer and grow inside of you, and eventually it will cause a lot of damage from which you may never recover.”

Gupta pointed out that young people who are bullied are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, changes in sleep and eating patterns as well as a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. “These issues may persist into adulthood,” he added.

“In addition to an increased risk of psychological disorders, this rejection among peers has also been linked to loneliness, academic difficulties and increased school dropout rates,” Gupta said.

“Children who bully others can also engage in violent or risky behaviors well into adulthood, making them more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, get into fights, drop out of school, engage in early sexual activity, be abusive toward romantic partners or have criminal convictions as adults,” Gupta said.

So, what are the warning signs that parents or teachers need to recognize?

“Look for changes in the child,” Gupta said. “Take note of unexplainable injuries, lost or destroyed belongings, frequent headaches or stomach aches, difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares, a sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations, declining grades, self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home or a decrease in self-esteem.”

Because these signs can also be linked to other issues, it’s incredibly important to talk with children to help identify the root of their problem.

For those concerned with cyberbullying, pay attention to children’s device usage habits. Often times those involved in cyberbullying may display drastic increases or decreases in device usage. They may also hide their screen when others are near and avoid talking about what they’re doing on their device. Also, take note if their social media accounts are shut down or they create new ones. “If children become withdrawn, depressed or lose interest in friends and activities, it’s time to intervene,” added Gupta.

Because young people are more likely to report bullying to their parents, Gupta recommended nurturing children by providing open lines of communication, providing structure by enforcing limits on computer use when dealing with cyberbullying and joining children in their world in appropriate ways, while respecting their privacy. “Most importantly, teach adolescents good judgement,” he recommended. “Teach critical thinking with regard to social media and internet use, as well.”

If you think a child is involved in bullying, talk to them, keep a record of what is happening, report the actions and find support to positively influence the situation.

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers both inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services to children and adolescents at the Penn Highlands DuBois Behavioral Health Center in DuBois.

Outpatient services include a variety of counseling, therapies and assessments for mild to severe behavioral health conditions, as well psychiatric evaluation, medication management, psychological assessment and individual and family psychotherapy.

Inpatient behavioral health services for young people, ages 5-18, are available for those who are exhibiting behavioral health problems that impair their ability to function in the home and/or school environment. This unit operates 24 hours a day and includes private and semi-private rooms, a classroom, dining room, a recreational lounge and therapy offices.

To learn about the behavioral health services available to children and adolescents at Penn Highlands Healthcare, visit www.phhealthcare.org or call 814-375-6379.