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How Cyberbullying and Twitter Attacks Can Wreck Your Mental Health

Jun 29, 2017

President Donald Trump's vicious Thursday morning Twitter tirade against NBC's Morning Joe co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough was met with widespread condemnation across the political spectrum. Trump, who's been criticized by the news and commentary program, employed a combination of name-calling and highly personal insults in retaliation—including a hit at Brzezinski claiming she was "bleeding badly from a face-lift."

Those sorts of Twitter sprees have become a regular tactic Trump employs against those he feels have wronged him. But they're also the kind of cyberbullying that can wreak havoc on mental health, especially among young Americans—ironic considering that First Lady Melania Trump has expressed a desire to combat cyberbullying while still defending her husband, including the latest Morning Joe tweets.

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So just how does cyberbullying affect health? There's plenty of medical literature to suggest it can have spiraling, and even tragic, consequences. A recent study presented at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting found that inpatients at a psychiatric hospital were prone to cyberbullying, and that the bullying was associated with an increased risk for mental health disorders among its victims.

“Those who were victims of cyberbullying were more depressed, they were more irritable and angry, and they were more likely to not feel like themselves than those who were not victims of cyberbullying,” they wrote.

That can also strongly influence other unhealthy behaviors. For instance, another study suggests that bullying in general can make young people more likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, and smoke cigarettes as a form of self-medication. And the forms of cyberbullying that hurts adolescent victims most are social media online posts, emails, and pictures, which have an outsize effect compared with text message and phone call bullying.

The depression, anxiety, anger, and ensuing harmful behaviors associated with cyberbullying can have tragic consequences. "[T]argets of cyberbullying were almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide" compared with peers who were neither victims nor perpetrators, and also far more likely to think about suicide, according to Pennsylvania State University's Charisse L. Nixon. That's not even considering the toll this sort of victimization can have on a student's academic and extracurricular performance and personal relationships.

Of course, it's not just young people who are cyberbullied (although they are by far the most victimized group). According to the Workplace Bullying Institute's 2017 survey, 60 million working age Americans are affected by cyberbullying. The breakdown of perpetrators and victims are striking: 70% of the bullies are men and 60% of the targets are women, according to the survey, and 61% of perpetrators are bosses or authority figures. Furthermore, 40% of the cyberbullies' victims are thought to suffer health effects from the bullying and many wind up losing their jobs to stop it.

There have been multiple recent instances of journalists, many females, who felt forced to leave Twitter as a social media platform entirely due to abusive tweets from Internet trolls.

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