understanding cyberbullying

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Cyberbullying affects many young people. If it's happening to you, we want you to know that you're not alone. There’s support out there and you don’t have to try and cope with it by yourself.

Because cyberbullying can be overwhelming, we’ve put together some information to help you make sense of how it might affect you and what you can do to get some support and report what’s happening – if that’s what you choose to do. 


What is cyberbullying? 

When someone uses the internet to hurt you or your feelings on purpose this is called cyberbullying. You might know the person from school, work, TAFE or uni, they could be somebody you met online, or you might not know who they are and that can feel scary too. You don't need to know who the person is to get some support and report what's happening. 

Everyone experiences online bullying differently, and some young people feel pressure to try and deal with it alone. Although it might feel scary to talk to someone about being bullied on social media, you’re not expected to cope with it alone and having support on your side can help. 

Some examples of cyberbullying include things like: 

  • Somebody regularly makes fun of you or calls you names on social media  
  • Somebody you know creates a private online group and posts pictures, videos, or comments to try and embarrass you  
  • Somebody from school is sending you threatening text messages, saying they will hurt you if you tell anybody about it  
  • Somebody using a fake account spreads rumours about you on social media  


When bullying happens on social media it can feel like you don’t get a break from the hurtful messages. The person who is bullying you might use lots of different platforms (like apps, text messages, games, or websites) to say or do things that make you feel unsafe. If this is happening to you, you might notice feeling sad, anxious, or alone and this can make it tough to feel hopeful that things can change. 

Talking to somebody you trust can help to take the pressure away from you. Together, you can figure out what steps you can take to look after yourself and report cyberbullying – if that’s what you decide to do. 


How common is cyberbullying? 

The rates of cyberbullying in Australia have been going up since 2015 and 1 in 2 young people who completed the headspace National Youth Survey said they had experienced online bullying at some point in their life.


Cyberbullying and the effects on mental health 

Cyberbullying impacts everyone differently. If you’re being bullied online, you might notice things like: 

  • Feeling sad and angry more often  
  • Having headaches, body pains, or trouble sleeping  
  • Feeling anxious and worrying more than usual  
  • Having negative thoughts and feelings about yourself  
  • Feeling out of control or uncertain about how your information is shared or who sees it 
  • Having a tough time doing the things you’re usually able to do like hanging out with friends and family or focusing on study  


The stress of bullying on social media can have a big impact on your mental health and some young people might experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide. 

This is a scary space to be in and often it’s our minds ways of telling us that we’re overwhelmed and that we need support to help us to cope.   

If you’ve noticed thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it’s important to reach out for support. If you don’t feel ready to talk to somebody you know, there are lots of free, confidential support services that can help. 



Why does cyberbullying happen? 

Cyberbullying can happen for lots of reasons and if you’re being bullied online, you’re not to blame. Sometimes cyberbullying can be a part of things like racism, sexism, or homophobia. Other times, people might hurt others online as a way of trying to fit in, make themselves feel better, or as a way of coping with difficult thoughts and feelings. You might not know why the person who is bullying you is trying to hurt you but talking about what’s going on with somebody you trust can help you to make sense of your experience and find a way forward. 


What might get in the way of reaching out for support? 

Talking about what’s going on isn’t always easy. Some of the reasons that make it tough for young people to reach out for support include things like: 


Worrying about getting in trouble or making the situation worse  

Sometimes the person who is bullying you might threaten to hurt you if you talk about what’s going on. Usually, this happens because they know they are in the wrong and they don’t want anybody to find out. If you are being cyberbullied, you are not to blame and talking with somebody you trust can help you to find a way forward.  


Feeling embarrassed about what’s going on or worried about being seen as weak  

When people say hurtful things about us over and over, we can start to believe what they say. When this happens, we might worry that everyone believes these negative things about us too and that can make it hard for us to reach out for support. Connecting with people you trust can remind you of the good things about yourself and, when you’re ready, they can help you to get some support about how to stop cyberbullying. 


Worrying that teachers or family may monitor or limit their access to the internet

Sometimes parents or teachers might encourage you to limit your time spent online to give you a break from what’s happening. However, staying connected with people you trust online can also be a source of support. If you’re worried that your internet access might be limited, it can help to talk about this with teachers and family so that you can make a plan together to stay connected in ways that promote your wellbeing. 


Believing that they need to deal with the situation alone

Even though you might feel like you have to deal with this by yourself, it's important to reach out to others. Having support can help you to make sense of what’s happening and explore your options to report cyberbullying. 


Worrying they won’t be believed or supported  

Cyberbullying can impact our ability to trust other people. One of the ways that you can build up your trust again is by reaching out to somebody who has been supportive in the past or who you think could help – like a family member, a school counsellor, or somebody at work. If this feels a bit too tough, you could also try reaching out to a free, confidential, online support service like eheadspace


Blaming themselves and thinking it’s their fault

No matter how complicated our relationships are, cyberbullying is never ok and if it’s happening to you, it’s not your fault.  

Reaching out is hard to do at first but with the right support on your side, things can and do get better. 


Where to get support 

Support in a crisis 

Sometimes the impact of cyberbullying can feel like too much and you might be worried about your safety. If this is happening to you, it’s really important to talk to somebody you trust so that you can get some support and stay safe. 

If you’re worried about your immediate safety, contact emergency services by calling 000. You won’t get in trouble for doing this – it’s a strength to reach out in a crisis and when you do, the people who you talk to can help you to cope with what you’re going through. 

Mental health support 

Talking about what’s going on can help. If you’re not sure what to do or you’ve noticed changes in yourself, now might be a good time to reach out to somebody you trust to get some support – like a trusted adult, a GP, or a mental health professional.  

There are mental health professionals at headspace centres and eheadspace (online and phone support) who can help too. If you’re at school, TAFE or uni, you may also be able to access a counselling or student wellbeing service. 


How to stop cyberbullying

You can report online bullying directly to the game, website, or app. If you’re not how sure how to report cyberbullying in Australia, you can check out the eSafety Commissioner's guide on reporting harmful content

If you choose to report cyberbullying, you may be asked to provide evidence. Evidence can include things like screenshots of the user profile of the person who is bullying you, information about the time and date when cyberbullying was taking place, and the name of the social media apps or websites where bullying is happening. You can learn more about collecting evidence by reading this guide by the eSafety Commissioner.   

If the game, website, or app doesn’t help, you can report cyberbullying to the eSafety Commissioner. They provide free, confidential, information and advice on how to stop cyberbullying, including exploring your options for legal support and learning new ways to promote your online safety.  


How to look after yourself 

If you’re being bullied online, there are things you can do support your mental health like keeping a routine, getting good sleep, and staying connected with supportive family and friends. If you’d like to learn more about ways you can look after yourself, you can check out our 7 tips to a healthy headspace. 




The  headspace Content Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website. 

Last reviewed 12 October 2023 

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