Coping, mental health and cyberbullying: Understanding the coping behaviours of adolescents and their reluctance to seek help

Presentation First Author: 
Larisa Karklins

Introduction: Researchers have established that cyberbullying is a key area of concern that can have mental health implications for young people (Campbell, Spears, Slee, Butler & Kift, 2012; van Geel, Vedder, & Tanilon, 2014; Spears, Taddeo, Daly, Stretton, Karklins, 2015). Young people, however, are unlikely to seek help for cyberbullying (Smith et al., 2008; Marées & Petermann, 2012) and little is known about why young people may cope in self destructive, emotional ways instead of seeking help. These dysfunctional forms of coping are likely to have serious consequences for wellbeing. An area that requires further attention therefore, is how young people cope, and what the implications are for their mental health.

Objectives: This research aimed to examine the relationship between the emotional state of young people and their coping and help seeking behaviours in regard to cyberbullying experiences. This understanding will inform teachers, policy makers, mental health practitioners, and parents regarding young people’s online practices, with a dual aim of reducing the harm and impact of cyberbullying and increasing help seeking and productive coping behaviours of young people.

Method: This mixed methods research involved quantitative online surveys (n=235) and qualitative interviews (n=31) across 8 South Australian high schools, adjacent to a larger study (n=2338). This study addressed Internet use, cyberbullying, coping behaviours, help seeking intentions, and mental health of young people.

Results: Results showed significant correlations between not seeking help from anyone and dysfunctional coping behaviours: such as substance use; behavioural disengagement; and venting emotions. Significant main effects were also found between cyberstatus and mental health, suggesting that those at risk of mental health problems may also be coping in destructive ways, including not seeking help from anyone. Personal interviews also revealed that professionals and online sources are unlikely to be accessed by young people: instead turning to dysfunctional coping strategies.

Conclusion: This research, which highlights the reluctance of young people to seek help for cyberbullying, paired with mental health concerns and dysfunctional coping methods, is of critical importance. The insights into young people’s lives can contribute to evidence-based responses to this issue and can inform current and future interventions. This is especially relevant in regards to initiatives that draw on emerging technologies, as this study has revealed that online interventions may not be widely accepted by young people.

Acknowledgement: This project is supported by the Young and Well CRC, established under the Australian Government's Cooperative Research Centres Program.

Conference Name: 
Date of Presentation: 
10th Oct 2015
Type of presentation: 
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