- Digital self-harm, in which students cyberbully themselves by posting anonymously negative comments or memes in response to their own posts, is on the rise, District Administration reports.
- A study using data from the 2019 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey shows one in 10 middle and high school students in Florida have committed digital self-harm in the past year, with a history of being bullied considered a gateway to the act.
- More than a third of middle and high school students report they have been cyberbullied, according to 2019 data from the Cyberbullying Research Center.
Administrators can mitigate harmful behavior by promoting positive online behavior, enforcing anti-cyberbullying policies, monitoring online spaces and working with parents.
With so many students socially isolated due to distance learning, it’s difficult for teachers to detect students struggling with mental health issues. However, signs of mental distress remain the same: decreased participation in class, poor attendance, negative interactions with parents on camera, frequent illnesses, incomplete assignments and not being mentally present. Teachers can regularly check in one-on-one with students to spot concerning behaviors.
Georgia’s Fulton County Schools, for example, is providing additional social-emotional support for students through home visits and connections to mental health professionals. Fulton County launched the school year with four weeks of social-emotional lessons on stress management, emotion control and how to access support systems.
Cyber self-harm was noted as early as 2010. In a report from 2012, teens said they engaged in digital self-harm to get someone else's attention, to prove they can take it, to get adult attention, to get someone to worry about them, as a joke, or to start a fight. Some students are seeking support from others when they post mean things about themselves. Similar to cutting and other forms of self-harm, the digital version can be a sign of depression and distress.
Gen Z students were already struggling with more depression than their predecessors, but the pandemic may be making it worse. Social isolation can lead to increased mental issues, and students of color and those from low-income families are the most susceptible. Heightened levels of stress and anxiety caused by increased use of social media and the emotional toll of the pandemic may exacerbate the problem. Historically, pandemics have been linked to suicide rate spikes, as was the case after the 1918 influenza pandemic.