Study finds cyber bullying links to self-harm among the young in Singapore

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Study finds a link between cyber bullying and self-harm, and numbers have increased overtime

The Singapore Children's Society (SCS) and Institute of Mental Health (IMH) studied data involving more than 3,000 students aged between 12 and 17 in 2014, in a survey on cyber bullying and Internet addiction. This new research found that cyber bullying cyber bullying in Singapore was linked to self-harm among children and teenagers in Singapore.

Participants were asked if they had ever hurt themselves on purpose, for example, by cutting themselves.

The findings of the study concluded that "being involved in cyber bullying - whether as a victim or as those who are both bullies and victims of bullying - was associated with a higher level of reported self-harm, than reported by those not involved in cyber bullying."

However, the researchers added that cyber bullying does not necessarily lead to self-harm. As it could be that youngsters who already self-harm have characteristics that make them vulnerable to online or offline bullying.

Psychologists and youth counsellors noted that youngsters could be more prone to self-harm in the event of trauma or distress. This is because of hyper-sensitivity and a tendency to hide their emotions from adults. Psychologist Daniel Koh, from Insights Mind Centre, said online hostility could fuel such trauma.

He said: "Negative comments on social media have the power to reinforce whatever negative thoughts a person might have. Which makes it more difficult to cope. They may not be able to deal with the situation in a positive manner. Hence are responding to the distress by self-harming." He said he has come across five cases of depression caused by cyber bullying in the past year.

"There could be more of such cases, but it's just that they tend to go unreported. If the depression is not detected, it may lead to more serious cases of self-harm or even suicide," added Mr Koh.

An increasing number of secondary school students were found to have felt like the victims of hostile acts online.

What can you do if you find out that your child is self-harming

In a separate study, Cyber wellness firm Kingmaker Consultancy conducted a survey of 2,600 students aged between 13 and 15 last year. They found an increase of up to 7 percentage points in the types of bullying, such as spreading rumours or sending offensive messages, compared with 2013.

About 43 per cent of male students said they were made fun of by others who posted pictures or jokes about them online, compared with 36% in 2013. About 32% of female students also reported the same in the latest survey, up from 28% previously.

SCS senior director for youth services Carol Balhetchet said that for cyber bullying, warning signs include situations when children go quiet and isolate themselves. After a distressing event that disturbs a young person's sense of safety, they want to quickly get back into a "safe space", she said.

"They will try to isolate themselves from shame or guilt and withdraw into their own world, or refuse to talk about their problems."

What do I do if I find that my child is self-harming or depressed?

  • Talk to your child. Avoid getting angry and yelling at them as they are probably in a very fragile state. Sit them down to talk to them and find out the cause of their self-harm.
  • Seek help. Sometimes, your kids may not want to open up to you. Let them know that if they aren't going to tell you, you would be taking them to seek professional help because self-harming is something serious that cannot be ignored.

News Source: The Straits Times