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Study Links Cyberbullying in Malaysian Youth to Increased Depression and Suicide Risk

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A recent study focusing on the psychological impact of cyberbullying on Malaysian youth has underscored the disturbing link between online harassment and increased risks of depression and suicidal ideation.

The research surveyed 534 Malaysian youths aged 15 to 26, revealing that those exposed to cyberbullying are significantly more likely to suffer from anxiety, stress, exhaustion, and depression, which in turn may lead to suicidal thoughts.

The findings were published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Cyberbullying, defined as hostile and aggressive behaviour through digital media aimed at harming or discomforting others, is a growing concern in the digital age. This phenomenon has evolved to become the most prevalent form of harassment among adolescents and young adults, surpassing traditional bullying forms. In Malaysia, about one in four parents report their child has experienced cyberbullying, reflecting a widespread issue that continues to plague the youth.

The study tested a path model based on the Conservation of Resources Theory, expecting that cyberbullying leads to a depletion of emotional resources like anxiety, stress, and exhaustion, which could subsequently escalate to depression and increase suicide ideation. The results confirmed this pathway, with depression serving as a significant mediator between cyberbullying and suicidal thoughts.

Daisy Kee Mui Hung, PhD from Universiti Sains Malaysia, explained the motivation behind the study: “The motivation of our study is to address the pressing issue of cyberbullying, particularly in the context of Malaysia, where it is becoming increasingly prevalent among both youth and adults. Our study aims to investigate the extent of cyberbullying in Malaysia, given its significant impact on youths’ psychological well-being.”

She further elaborated on the findings: “Cyberbullying victimisation was positively associated with suicidal ideation, both directly and through feelings of depression. This suggests that cyberbullying experiences can contribute to thoughts of suicide among youth. Anxiety, emotional exhaustion, and stress were found to mediate the relationship between cyberbullying victimisation and depression. Cyberbullying exposure had a positive direct association with depression.”

The implications of these findings are profound. They highlight the urgent need for effective cyberbullying prevention programmes that can educate youth about the severe consequences of such behaviours. Enhanced awareness and educational efforts are required to curb this menace and protect the mental health of young individuals.

This study not only adds to the growing body of literature demonstrating the adverse effects of cyberbullying on mental health but also calls for concerted efforts from parents, educators, and policymakers to implement strategic interventions.

Dr Kee emphasised the importance of policy and intervention development: “There is a pressing need for Malaysia’s criminal justice system and policymakers to acknowledge social media platforms as vehicles for criminal activities, particularly cyberbullying. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok should be legally obligated to assist victims of cyberbullying.”

By fostering a safer online environment, the psychological well-being and safety of young people can be better secured. Dr Kee advocates for a comprehensive approach: “Education and psychology professionals should integrate interventions on technology, its appropriate use, and misuse into the school curriculum to mitigate the threat of cyberbullying. These interventions should focus on promoting critical thinking skills, self-awareness, autonomy, and resilience among Malaysian youth to empower them to respond effectively to cyberbullying incidents.”

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