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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Don’t forget mental health in New Year’s resolutions

Improving physical health can benefit mental well-being.

One of people’s most common New Year’s resolutions is to get healthier. Although this can often take the form of vowing to lose weight, the behaviors associated with weight loss - eating less fat, more fruits and vegetables, and increasing physical activity - help improve overall health as well.

But as much as we want to improve our physical health, one area that is often overlooked is mental health. A growing body of research suggests there is an important relationship between the body and mind - and that being physically healthy can have the added benefit of improving mental well-being.

One of the most common - but often overlooked - factors that can impact health is stress. Although not all stress is bad, the negative effects of too much stress can be substantial over time. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, continued strain on the body from routine stress may lead to both physical and mental health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, but also depression and anxiety disorders.

Other studies have found people living with chronic physical conditions can experience emotional stress and chronic pain, which are both associated with developing depression and anxiety. In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association found people living with chronic physical health conditions experience depression and anxiety at twice the rate of the general population.

But while poor physical health can have a negative impact on mental health, the good news is the opposite is also true. And if you have vowed to improve your physical fitness in the New Year, you may notice mental health benefits as well.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of depression, while also helping to keep thinking, learning and judgment skills sharp as people age. Although people will gain the most benefit from exercising three to five times a week for 30 to 60 minutes, research has found there is a health benefit - physical and mental - to almost any type of physical activity. Even something as simple as walking can enhance your mood.

Doctors have known for years that physical activity stimulates the production of chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which help relieve stress and improve mood. In addition to these and other benefits of exercise (such as losing weight and reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer), physical activity can help people feel better about themselves, boosting confidence and self-esteem. 

Other behaviors known to enhance physical health can also have a positive impact on mental well-being. For example, eating nutritious food, not smoking or using drugs (including not drinking alcohol to excess) and getting enough sleep can help improve mood and mental functioning while also reducing the risk of serious chronic disease.

Of course, there are many factors that can impact mental health - including heredity, trauma, brain injury and addiction, among others - and not all are preventable. Nor does living a healthy lifestyle guarantee an individual will never have mental illness. Still, good physical health may help reduce the risk of mental illness, help alleviate symptoms and is an important part of mental health recovery. That’s why doctors treating mental illness almost always recommend exercise as part of an individual’s recovery plan.

Ultimately, your mind and body are connected on many levels - and being truly healthy includes both physical and mental health. If you are concerned you might be dealing with emotional or mental health issues, talk to your doctor or a local mental health clinic as soon as you can - because research also suggests that mental health issues can have a negative impact on physical health.

Best wishes for a happy and mentally healthy New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Punjab to Combat Women Harassment Through Technology


Women will soon be able to use a smartphone application to report harassment along with their exact geographic location to the police.

An android application is being developed by the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) in collaboration with the Punjab Commission on Status of Women to help report and combat harassment faced by women across the province.

Through the application, women can notify the Police Integrated Command, Control and Communication (PPIC3) officials about the kind of harassment they are facing along with their exact geographic location. The officials will then dispatch a team of first responders to immediately tackle the situation. The first responders of this application will be the Dophin Force, Police Response Unit and Police Stations Beat Officers.

Women’s harassment includes, but is not limited to domestic, workplace or public place harassment.

The application will be used for two purposes: to create awareness about harassment and to help victims of it. It will consist of two to three modes including a panic button for emergency situations. Phone calls generated from the application will be directed to the 15 helpline where a special desk has been designated to answers the calls. These operators have undergone special training to effectively deal with cases of various forms of harassment. “Definitions of what constitutes harassment and what does not will be built-into the application so apart from helping out the citizens, we can also educate them,” says Shamsher Haider, Deputy Chief System Integration at the PSCA. The punishments for these crimes are in sync with Federal and Provincial legislature.

However, while the application aims to make it easier for women to report harassers, the officials have not mentioned how the law enforcement agencies will be sensitized to ensure that female harassment cases are dealt with delicately and adequately. “We already have laws where women can report abuse and assault, but the process of filing that FIR, or even stepping into the police station, means preparing yourself for a character assassination first,” says Sadia Khatri, Founder of the women empowerment initiative “Girls at Dhabas”. When reports of harassment / assault do come in, the very officials dealing with the reports turn to the survivor (usually a woman) first, trying to find a reason to blame her for what she had no control over. It’s rare for authorities to focus their investigation on the aggressor — esp until media and activists make some noise.”

The application, being developed by Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) IT Department will be launched by the end of December, 2016.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Horrifying memories of APS attack impede survivors’ studies


After two years of the horrific attack on the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, many surviving students find it hard to concentrate on their coursework as the gory incident keeps flashing back in their minds to distract them from studies.

Several survivors, who are now enrolled in different colleges after graduating from the APS, still feel traumatised. Reportedly, they were not satisfied with their academic performance as much as they used to be before the Dec 16, 2014 attack.

They said that their capacity to pick lecture in classrooms and understand a topic through book reading had lowered alarmingly after witnessing the bloodbath on that fateful day.
Attack victims need regular, prolonged counselling, says a psychiatrist

“I get frightened whenever someone speaks loudly or walks in a hurry,” says Amir Ameen, one of the survivors. Though the bullet wound on his left arm has healed, the gory incident left a deep scar on Amir’s life with problems he is still struggling to overcome.

Mr Amir said that after losing his friend-like brother Ishaq Ameen he was missing him at every moment of life as they would play together, enjoy the picnic places, and study and sleep in the same room of their house.

“When I turn off the light and go to sleep, the entire episode of APS attack recycles in my mind,” said Mr Amir, who is now a student of Mechanical Engineering in Sarhad University, Peshawar. Sometimes, he also hears those deafening blasts in dream.

He says he feel relieved from the trauma during daytime for being busy in the university and with his friends. But while sitting alone, Mr Amir says he remembers his brother and rest of the classmates who lost their lives in the militant attack.

Vowing to continue his education, he said that time of death was fixed and no one could escape that moment when it would come.

Maaz Irfan, another survivor, is still going through trauma amid continuous surgeries of his left elbow. “So far, I have gone through four major and several minor surgeries, but despite that my elbow is not folding,” said Maaz, who is now a student of Islamia College.

Another major surgery would be conducted on Dec 20 in Lahore, he said. “My mother, who is a psychiatrist, says that the horrifying memories linked with the terrorist attack on APS will fade away gradually,” he said.

“I get panicked whenever I hear gunshots. Even a cracker blast by children in marriage ceremonies frightens me,” he said, while sharing his experiences in routine life. Maaz said that he couldn’t focus fully while reading a book.

“A psychiatrist has been examining me every week, but still I avoid going to noisy places like bazaars, functions, etc,” said Malik Tahir Awan. “I have lost nine friends, all 10th graders. I cannot forget them,” he said.

Muneebullah Shah, one of the survivors, said that impact of the trauma was very high in the initial days, which had reduced to some extent.

The normal grief on the death of a near and dear one depends on the age of the deceased person, nature of death, whether natural or unnatural, sudden or after a prolonged disease and on the emotional bonds of the family members of the deceased, said Dr Mian Iftikhar Hussain, when asked about the trauma among the survivors.

Dr Hussain, a known psychiatrist and psychotherapist, said that in case of a normal death the grief prolonged from three to six months. The grief of the victims and survivors of the APS attack will prolong from a minimum of one year to many years because of the unnatural, unexpected death due to a catastrophic incident, he said.

The victims and survivors of the APS massacre need regular and prolonged counselling sessions, he said, adding the joint counselling sessions of the parents and survivors were also needed for a prolonged period where they could share their grief and lessen their miseries.

All these counselling services need to be provided by the government by involving psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. The parents and survivors of the incident need to be facilitated to come out of this grief smoothly, Dr Hussain suggested.

They need to be helped out to come to terms with the loss as soon as possible and enabled to continue their life ahead without weeping constantly on their wounds, he said. These wounds of great loss need to be healed as soon as possible though the scars will remain.

The grief of the parents and survivors need to be redirected to purposeful, welfare activities that could bring them satisfaction, he said, adding that regular recreational activities might be provided to them to facilitate this process.

He mentioned that after one year to the incident the parents and the survivors were still passing through the grief and holding portraits of the victims. “In my opinion the required counselling services have not been provided. Access by psychiatric and psychological service providers to the survivors and parents of the APS students has been restricted for unknown reasons,” he said.

Both fathers and mothers of the victims have been passing through miseries and prolonged grief, but in Dr Hussain’s opinion the grief of the mothers was more than the fathers because of the greater biological, physiological and psychological bonds.

The mothers are restricted to their homes and relatives in our culture, so they find fewer opportunities than fathers to express their emotions and vent their grief.

The parents are not satisfied with the probe into the APS attack, as details about the incident have not been shared with them. So, this illusion about the APS incident, why and how it happened will also be a significant factor in prolonging the grief of the parents and survivors, he said.

H/T: Dawn News

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mental retardation increasing in Pakistan due to cousin marriages: Pakistani researchers

A team of 12 Pakistani researchers has concluded that the reason for mental retardation in the Pakistani population is the prevalence of the cousin marriages.

The researchers were from the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Medical University (SZABMU), Islamabad, and they collaborated with the scientists from the Netherlands and the USA for this pathbreaking report on the impact of the cousin marriages. Last Tuesday the report was brought to light and the research already found its place in the prestigious science journal, Nature’s Molecular Psychiatry.

What the report states on the cousin marriages

This research report says that it has discovered 30 genes that were responsible for causing mental retardation and intellectual disabilities in the population.

Vice Chancellor of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Medical University, Dr Javed Akram hailed the Pakistani researchers for their efforts calling it a ‘landmark discovery’ and also said that the ‘mental retardation is high due to cousin marriages.’ Dr Akram was also part of this team.

Total 121 families with Intellectual disability (ID) were selected mostly from the rural areas of  Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtoon Khawa and Northern areas.


The enrolled families comprise eight ethnic groups, namely Punjabi (68.6%), Siraiki (10.8%), Pathan (9%), Urdu speaking (7.8%) and others (Sindhi, Afghan, Baloch and Kashmiri (3.8%) and each of these families had 2 or more affected individuals and 111 families consanguineous unions, while in 74 families the affected individuals were present in separate sibships

To check the full report and its findings, click here.

Cousin marriages are common in Pakistan but its impact on the population has been a subject of controversy and hardly any debate happens on this. The researchers are hoping that with this report out, the situation may improve and better medical facilities will be available for those affected by it.

Cousin marriages among Pakistanis ring alarm bells even in the UK

Baroness Flather made headlines last year when she said that the first cousin marriages among the Pakistanis were leading to disabilities among the children. She even wanted the couples to undergo DNA tests first to ensure that the issue of incest could be controlled.

She had then called the situation ‘absolutely appalling’ and she especially singled out the Pakistanis coming from its occupied Kashmir.

The British citizens of the Pakistani origin account for a mere 3.4 percent of all births in the UK, yet they account for 30 percent of the children born with recessive gene disorders.

In Bradford, the Pakistani population is mere 15% yet a whopping 55% are married to their first cousins.

H/T: Current Triggers

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sahil honoured for child rights efforts

Sahil, a child rights organisation, received the prestigious award in connection with International Human Rights Day at Aiwan Sadar Islamabad. President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain awarded this award to Sahil on recognition of astonishing effort for child rights in Pakistan. On this award ceremony Mamnoon Hussain distributed Awards among the people and organizations for their outstanding contribution and services in protection of human rights.

Sahil is an organization that is working to develop a protective environment for children free from all forms of violence especially child sexual abuse. Sahil was established in 1996 as an NGO, to ensure the protection of children. As stated in Article 34 of Child Rights Convention (CRC) "State parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse".

National Program Manager Sahil, Umer Kiani received this award from President Mamnoon Hussain. After receiving award Executive Director Sahil Manizeh Bano stated that we feel proud to receive this prestigious award and we are thankful to our staff, volunteers and all well-wishers and supporters across the country. She added that indeed it’s a proud moment, we are on the way to provide a safe secure and protected environment for our children. She was thankful to President of Pakistan, ministry of Human Rights, National Commission on Human Rights for their trust recognition of the services of Sahil.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Bullying in Pakistan


Being subjected to some kind of verbal or physical or even social disturbance is not something that should be accepted nor is it something normal that happen for every person during his/her lifetime, yet it is some form that might cause any person to feel threatened, powerless or not accepted among his/her community, and lead that person to drop himself out of any engagements with the social life, or even worse it might lead them to try ending their lives and committing suicidal acts. Bullying in Pakistan is present since a long time, and it is increasing quickly with the appearance of new ways to bully others like the emergence of the internet that led to the appearance of cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying in Pakistan

According to a study that was done among 25 countries about cyber bullying, it was found that Pakistan does not stand at the first of the row in online bullying, yet it also takes the twenty second highest rate in cyber bullying. But children in Pakistan do have a background about cyber bullying and know what it means and how they might be subjected to it in which 6 in every 10 children said that they know something about cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying is referred to any act that is done by one person or a group of people towards another person over some type of technological tool, either mobile phones or the usage of the internet. Cyber bullying can come in the form of sending text messages, e-mails, using the social media websites such as FaceBook to share someone’s confidential information by accessing their profiles without their knowledge (hacking) like sharing their photos or some videos they already have of them. Cyber bullying can include audio messages that is sent to the victim and might leave them nothing but frightened and threatened, and the thing that is even worse than what cyber bullying is all about is the fact that it might take place at any time during the day, the bully does not have to stick to certain hours like bullying in schools and in workplaces.

With over 100 million users of smart phones in Pakistan, Pakistan has been included in the list of the fastest growing countries that are using internet which only open the doors for the fact that cyber bullying is increasing as well, yet there isn’t any legislation for cyber crimes in Pakistan. In 2007, General Pervez Musharaf introduced the Prevention of Electronic crime Ordinance (PECO) which was in order to prevent terrorist or banned groups from using the internet for using propaganda against the military and to protect female members of the Parliament who were being harassed by abusive phone calls and text messages.

Other people in Pakistan who are far from the political life complain about living in a country that suffer from the absence of law to protect them against online crimes, saying that PECO had several flaws, and many of the definitions in it were incorrect, such as for example the ordinance that was sent for the NA for ratification stated that sending indecent, provocative and ill motivated messages through e-mails and text messages was an offence and would result in 14 years of imprisonment along with the confiscation of property which was seen by a lot of people that it was too much for a minor issue, and on the other side there were no provision in PECO that tackles the issue of child pornography and intellectual property theft.

One of the main problems that results from cyber bullying in Pakistan is that the women are more involved in bullying and harassment acts more than men, with the appearance of the internet world and the girls taking over, they started knowing everything on the online world and engaging themselves in the internet world, teenage girls in Pakistan are considered “computer savvy”. The problem is that girls are not only open to the world of information and entertainment but they also know about the online sexual content. The girls in Pakistan claim that they know the dangers that result from the internet world, where 84% of the girls cited their own common sense in detecting and differentiating between the harmful and harmless acts that happens over the internet, while 51% stated that they know the difference according to their parents, and only 4% believe that nothing is ever bad on the internet because they claim that it is not a real world.

In Pakistan it seems that women are the easiest targets to be bullied online, because the National Response Center for Cyber Crimes (NR3C) does not have any legislation for cyber crimes such as hacking and online stalking, there were several incidents that faced women regarding these issues.
  • The first one was of the two girls from a liberal arts college in Pakistan who decided to participate in an international sketching competition, the sketches were supposed to be of nude self portraits, so they asked a friend to photograph and send the pictures over to them via e-mail, but the secret was easily revealed because at the very same week the two girl’s e-mails were hacked and blackmailing threats started reaching them.
  • Another incident was of the two female celebrities in Pakistan who reported for Bytes for all the Facebook profiles that were formed about them, and the reason behind creating such profiles was to recruit some young girls as modeling aspirations for dubious events and phony jobs. Such acts do not only affect the image of these celebrities but also make those girls at the mercy of the criminals.
  • One of the main cyber bullying issues in Pakistan that threatens every girl is being sexually attacked. And according to Nabiha Meher, a Pakistani blogger who also teaches in some universities in Lahore, the family’s honor in Pakistan is usually tied to the women, if the woman in the family is sexually attacked then the whole family’s honor is attacked as well, and that’s why bullies in Pakistan play on that part by harassing women online even by sending them a threat that they will rape them.

School bullying in Pakistan

School bullying is any kind of bullying that is connected with education, meaning that it takes place within the school; it might be in the form of verbal bullying such as name calling, teasing, mocking and threatening or might be physical such as hitting, shoving, spitting, punching, stealing and damaging property, or it might take the form of social bullying such as gossiping, spreading rumors, excluding a person from a group or spreading hatred towards him in school. The children who are being bullied usually face some kinds of depression, lack of sleep, they might disengage themselves from the social life, or else they will find themselves skipping school or feeling unsafe and threatened to go.

The person who is being bullied in school is usually being picked among a large number of students because they seem different in some way whether the religion or the sex, or else it might be for another appearances such as being shy for example, some researches done even mentioned that some bullies do such acts because they are just bored and want to have fun. Studies have shown that children who are subjected to bullying acts are more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as depression, low self esteem, stress or anxiety, or else they might think about suicide.

According to a study that was done in six medical colleges in Pakistan, it was found in the 63% of the people who responded to the survey that 52% of the respondents reported that they had faced bullying or harassment during their medical education, and about 28% of them experiencing it more frequently or even every month, and 57% of the bullying acts were verbal.

Bullying at school leads to other problems that might last with the person, and because of that a lot of people consider bullying as a kind of violence, it is even estimated that 1 in every 4 children who have faced an act of bullying in elementary schools will have a criminal record at the age of 30. Bullying at schools might lead to the student losing his/her friends, or yet not having the career they always dreamed of when they finish their studies, some might even enter the career level but yet be subjected to another workplace bullying acts since they are already weak.

Some of the things that should be taken in order to avoid bullying in the schools of Pakistan:
  • Ignoring the bully and walking away, that kind of act will tell the bully that the victim actually don’t care, sometimes walking away is even more better for the person than confronting and losing his/her temper. But over time the bully will find themselves getting bored because they find no responses.
  • The bully is always targeting for angering the victim, and if the victim controlled his/her anger that might make the bullies lose their minds.
  • The victims should never engage themselves in physical relations, because the acts of bullying usually comes out from people who consider themselves more powerful, and the victim doesn’t know what he is putting himself into, such ways will only lead to more violence in the place.
  • Victims should open up themselves and talk about incidents that they faced, they should tell their teachers or parents about what they are facing in their everyday life in school. Talking can be an outlet for the fears and frustrations that are inside any person.
  • Children should know how to choose their friends and peers in school; they should know who is good and who is bad.
School bullying cases in Pakistan

After the great appearance of bullying in the schools of Pakistan, several parents reported to the police about incidents that happened with their children. For example:
  • The case of the 13 year old Pakistani junior high school student in Takamatsu whose father filed a criminal complaint with the police about the classmates of his son who are always bullying and injuring him.
  • Another parent’s of a male Pakistani student in high school in a town in Kagawa Prefecture filed a complaint for the police because his son was being bullied and injured seriously in school. His parents said that four of his classmates were always making verbal comments about the boy because his skin color was different, and using words like “dirty skin” and telling him to go back to his country. He was also being beaten up by them.
Workplace bullying in Pakistan
Any behavior that is unprofessional and unwanted that affects the dignity of an employer is usually unacceptable in the workplace and is considered an act of bullying. Workplace bullying is when a person uses his power in an unjustifiable manner over a vulnerable colleague or an employee, which has been considered a swearing word in the professional circuits. Research analysis showed that people who are subjected to acts of bullying in their workplaces usually talk with their friends and family about the incidents and some of them even look for other jobs, while 42% talk with their colleagues about their acts, and only 9% to 18% of the affected people put a formal complaint.

According to a Pakistani business review in 2011, it was found that there is a relation between popularity and bullying in workplaces, since the person who is popular is usually loved and appreciated by his employer and colleagues, the bully usually feels jealous towards that person, which leads him doing some bullying acts towards the other person. This study showed also that in Pakistan female employers are more likely to be bullied by female bosses, while male employers are more likely to be bullied by male bosses, it was also stated that male employers are being bullied for their work performances while women are bullied for personal and moral values.

Bullying in an organization can reduce staff turnover and increase de-motivation and absences among employees, which will result in negative productivity. And because popular employers are targeted more than the others it will affect their giving in the workplace as well.

References
http://www.jpma.org.pk/full_article_text.php?article_id=2155
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0003889
http://herald.dawn.com/tag/cyberbullying

H/T: No Bullying

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Knitting, baking and painting improve well-being and mental health, study finds


It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly it happened, but at some point over the past few years, wool got cool.

No longer the preserve of grannies, knitting is now a popular hobby amongst younger generations, with millennials showing off their creations on instagram, making pilgrimages to niche wool shops and hosting hat-making parties with their friends.

And it’s not just knitting that’s made a comeback of late - a whole host of traditional and crafty skills like jam-making, crocheting and painting have had a resurgence.

According to a new study, however, taking up one of these hobbies won’t just make you terribly on-trend, it’ll also improve your mental health.

The research studied 658 students and discovered that after engaging in something crafty, people felt not only happier and calmer the following day but had more energy too.

Knitting and baking have long been lauded for their therapeutic nature, but the researchers also included crocheting, jam-making, cooking, performing music, painting, drawing, sketching, digital design and creative writing in their list of beneficial activities.

The results of the study, carried out by Otago University, New Zealand, will no doubt please members of the Women’s Institute, which has always placed an emphasis on such traditional past-times.

Janice Langley, chairman of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, told the Daily Mail: "WI members have enjoyed creative activities and crafts since the very first WI meeting in 1915, so it's great to hear this study has found some evidence that these interests could lead to increased wellbeing and creativity.”

And with the past decade having seen a notable increase in WI members and the creation of new branches, it would appear more and more people are discovering the benefits of getting crafty and domestic.

Perhaps most interesting about the study’s findings is that the boost in well-being from a creative activity endures too: “Engaging in creative behaviour leads to increases in well-being the next day, and this increased well-being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day,” explained the study’s lead author, Dr Tamlin Connor.

So if you want to feel better tomorrow, pick up a wooden spoon or some knitting needles today.

Friday, December 2, 2016

50m Pakistanis suffering from mental disorders


Around 50 million people are suffering from common mental disorders in Pakistan. The illness afflicts 15 to 35 million adults, which is about 10 to 20 per cent of the population.

“Approximately 20 million children or 10pc of the population in our country need attention from mental health practitioners,” said Dr Ayesha Mian, chairperson of the department of psychiatry at the Aga Khan University (AKU).

Dr Mian said there was a perception that people with mental illness were violent, losufoked different from others, and could never get better or could not be productive members of society.

“Such misleading stereotypes impact adversely on these people’s struggle to cope with their condition.”

"Studies show that people with mental illness are much more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator. Media should come forward and be strong partners against this social bias,” she said. She said family members, friends and the society in general had a vital role to play in helping people recover from mental illness. They needed positive attitude and acceptance of their conditions.

Unfortunately, there are only 400 trained psychiatrists in the country.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pakistan's first cyber harassment helpline launched today


A digital rights organisation has launched Pakistan’s first cyber harassment helpline today.

The service can be reached at 0800-39393.



Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), a non-governmental organisation, is a research-based advocacy organisation focusing on information and communications technology (ICT) to support human rights, democracy and digital governance.

“DRF is launching Pakistan’s first Cyber Harassment Helpline, which will provide a free, safe, and confidential service to victims of online harassment,” the NGO said in a statement released on Friday.

The helpline will ensure provision of “legal advice, digital security support, psychological counselling and a referral system” to the victims of online harassment.

The soft launch of the helpline was held at DRF’s Hamara Internet – Ending Online Violence Against Women conference on November 28 in Islamabad.

How the Internet Has Changed Bullying


This summer, American Psychologist, the official journal of the American Psychological Association, released a special issue on the topic of bullying and victimization. Bullying is, presumably, as old as humanity, but research into it is relatively young: in 1997, when Susan Swearer, one of the issue’s two editors, first started studying the problem, she was one of the first researchers in the United States to do so. Back then, only four states had official statutes against bullying behavior, and the only existing longitudinal work had come out of Scandinavia, in the seventies. After Columbine, however, the landscape changed. The popular narrative at the time held that the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, had been bullied, and that idea—which has since been challenged—prompted a nationwide conversation about bullying, which researchers around the country began studying in earnest. This special issue marks one of the first attempts to systematically review what we’ve learned in the last two decades—and, especially, to explore whether and how the Internet has changed the bullying landscape. 

In some ways, bullying research has affirmed what we already know. Bullying is the result of an unequal power dynamic—the strong attacking the weak. It can happen in different ways: through physical violence, verbal abuse (in person or online), or the management of relationships (spreading rumors, humiliation, and exclusion). It is usually prolonged (most bullies are repeat offenders) and widespread (a bully targets multiple victims). Longitudinal work shows that bullies and victims can switch places: there is an entire category of bully-victims—people who are victims in one set of circumstances and perpetrators in another. Finally, emerging research demonstrates that bullying follows us throughout life. Workplace and professional bullying is just as common as childhood bullying; often, it’s just less obvious. (At work—one hopes—people don’t steal your bicycle or give you a wedgie.)

To date, no one has systematically studied how different bullying settings affect bullying behavior—whether bullying in the Northeast differs from bullying the Midwest, or whether bullying in certain cultures, neighborhoods, or professions comes with its own characteristics. What Swearer has noticed, however, in her nearly two decades of bullying research is a persistent—and seemingly fundamental—environmental distinction between urban and rural bullying. In urban and even mid-sized city environments, anonymity is possible. Even if you’re bullied in school, you can have a supportive friend group at your local pickup basketball game. And there are multiple schools and multiple neighborhoods, which means you can float from one to the other, leaving bullying behind you in the process.

By contrast, in rural settings, “There aren’t options,” Swearer said, when we spoke earlier this month. “It’s impossible to get away.” The next school may be a hundred miles distant, so you are stuck where you are. What’s more, everyone knows everyone. The problems of reporting a bully—or, if you are a bully, of becoming less of one—become much more intractable, because your reputation surrounds you, and behavioral patterns are harder to escape. “Your world becomes an isolated and small place,” Swearer says. Isolation itself, she points out, can lead to a sense of helplessness and lack of control—feelings that are associated with some of the worst, most persistent psychological problems in any population, including bullying.

In some ways, when it comes to bullying, the Internet has made the world more rural. Before the Internet, bullying ended when you withdrew from whatever environment you were in. But now, the bullying dynamic is harder to contain and harder to ignore. If you’re harassed on your Facebook page, all of your social circles know about it; as long as you have access to the network, a ceaseless stream of notifications leaves you vulnerable to victimhood. Bullying may not have become more prevalent—in fact, a recent review of international data suggests that its incidence has declined by as much as ten per cent around the world. But getting away from it has become more difficult.

The inescapability of “cyberbullying” has huge consequences not just for children but also for adults. While workplace bullying is still a new field of study, adults seem to experience bullying just as much as kids do. A 2012 study from the University of Nottingham and the University of Sheffield, in the U.K., found that eight out of ten of the three hundred and twenty adults surveyed across three different universities had been victims of cyberbullying in the last six months; about a quarter reported feeling humiliated or ignored, or being the subject of online gossip, at least once a week. The effects of adult bullying can be just as severe, if not more so, than those of childhood bullying. While students can go to their teachers if they’re being bullied, if you report your boss, you could be out of a job. And adult victims of cyberbullying tend to suffer higher levels of mental strain and lower job satisfaction than those subjected to more traditional forms of bullying. An undermining colleague can be put out of mind at the end of the day. But someone who persecutes you over e-mail, social networks, or anonymous comments is far more difficult to avoid and dismiss.

Many forms of adult bullying are uncomfortably close to the sorts of shaming behaviors outlined by Jon Ronson in his recent book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.” (Alexandra Schwartz wrote about Ronson’s book for this web site, earlier this year.) Ronson documents the rise of cyberbrigades which unite in virtual outrage, on Twitter, Reddit, or elsewhere online, to disparage someone’s words or behavior. Participants often feel that their abusive actions flow from justified outrage—but all bullies think that their behavior is justified. “We know from moral disengagement work that all bullies feel morally justified in their actions,” Swearer pointed out. Ask people why they bully, and they rarely say, “Because I can.” They say, “Because I need to.” Bullies believe they are teaching someone a lesson; they claim that their victims are, through their own actions or faults, asking for it, and that they need to be called out and corrected. “They say it’s retaliatory. ‘I just retaliated,’ “ Swearer said. “They build narratives of their behaviors.” Many of the bullies Swearer has dealt with don’t seem to have realized that what they did was bullying: they demonstrate “a lack of insight and self-awareness.” Instead, they see themselves as righteous crusaders.

In children, it’s possible to instill self-awareness about bullying through schoolwide interventions. Catherine Bradshaw, a psychologist and associate dean at the University of Virginia who studies bullying prevention, has found that the most effective approaches are multilayered and include training, behavior-modification guidelines, and systems for detailed data collection. (More, in other words, than a stray assembly or distributed book.) Unfortunately, the equivalent for adults can be hard to find. Many adult bullies hide behind the idea that bullying happens only among children. They conceive of themselves as adults who know better and are offering their hard-earned wisdom to others. The Internet makes that sort of certainty easier to attain: looking at their screens, adult bullies rarely see the impact of their words and actions. Instead, they comfortably bask in self-righteous glory. The U.K. study from 2012 found that online bystanders, too, are disengaged. Observing the actions of cyberbullies, they were less concerned than when they watched in-person bullying.

In short, the picture that’s emerged suggests that the Internet has made bullying both harder to escape and harder to identify. It has also, perhaps, made bullies out of some of us who would otherwise not be. We are immersed in an online world in which consequences often go unseen—and that has made it easier to deceive ourselves about what we are doing. The first step to preventing bullying among adults, therefore, might be simple: introspection.

Courtesy: New Yorker

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