Count­ing the sad cost of bul­ly­ing epi­demic

The Weekend Post - - News -

LANAI SCARR CY­BER-BUL­LY­ING of our kids is cost­ing Aus­tralian tax­pay­ers more than $30 mil­lion.

The bill for help from GPs or men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als as a re­sult of bul­ly­ing on­line is re­vealed to­day as ex­perts say the epi­demic needs to be treated as se­ri­ously as the rise of HIV.

The Aus­tralian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion says doc­tors are swamped by teens and youth suf­fer­ing anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.

Re­search by youth men­tal health ser­vice ReachOut has found 378,000 14 to 25-yearolds were bul­lied on­line in Aus­tralia last fi­nan­cial year.

Of those, 64,000 sought help from a men­tal health pro­fes­sional and 49,000 vis­ited their GP.

Nearly 53,000 did not seek help for cy­ber-bul­ly­ing at all.

On the ba­sis of the Medi­care re­bate of $36.30 to pa­tients for visits to the GP, and an $84.80 re­bate for a psy­chol­o­gist visit, fac­tor­ing in just one visit each, the cost to tax­pay­ers was $7.3 mil­lion last year alone or $30 mil­lion over the four years of Bud­get es­ti­mates.

Doc­tors say the cost­ings are con­ser­va­tive based on what they are see­ing.

ReachOut CEO Ash­ley De Silva said cy­ber-bul­ly­ing was a grow­ing pub­lic health and safety is­sue for Aus­tralian fam­i­lies.

“The dif­fi­culty with cy­ber­bul­ly­ing is of­ten there’s no es­cape for young peo­ple, with the bul­lies ef­fec­tively hav­ing a key to ev­ery area of their life, in­clud­ing their home,” Mr De Silva said.

Alan­nah & Made­line Foun­da­tion CEO Les­ley Podesta – who has worked closely with Dolly Everett’s fam­ily in the wake of the teen’s sui­cide fol­low­ing her cy­ber-bul­ly­ing – said ad­dress­ing the health costs and im­pacts of cy­ber-bul­ly­ing needed to be given the same level of se­ri­ous­ness as when Aus­tralia faced the rise of HIV.

“With the re­sponse to HIV we had a world-lead­ing na­tional plan that raised aware­ness and re­ally changed be­hav­iours,” Ms Podesta said.

“We can and need to do the same with cy­ber-bul­ly­ing be­cause this is a sim­i­larly se­ri­ous pub­lic health is­sue.”

Aus­tralian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Tony Bar­tone said doc­tors were be­ing swamped by kids com­ing to their GP with anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion as a re­sult of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing.

He said the fig­ure of $30 mil­lion was very con­ser­va­tive, given it would be likely pa­tients would see their doc­tor more than once and a GP men­tal health plan in­cluded six sub­sidised visits.

“We do need to get se­ri­ous about this. There are enor­mous gaps in the sys­tem,” Dr Bar­tone said.

For­mer Aus­tralian of the Year and founder of HeadSpace Pa­trick McGorry said if more re­sources were not di­rected to tackle cy­ber-bul­ly­ing head on, rates of self-harm and sui­cide would climb among our youth.

“There is a sense that it is grow­ing and the re­al­ity is at the mo­ment, ser­vices that help our young peo­ple have huge wait­ing lists and are un­der­re­sourced.”

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Mitch Fi­field said it was “clear that cy­ber-bul­ly­ing is cost­ing tax­pay­ers” how­ever would not com­mit to any fu­ture pol­icy direc­tion on the is­sue. “The harm (cy­ber-bul­ly­ing) has on in­no­cent chil­dren sim­ply can’t be quan­ti­fied,” he said.

NO ES­CAPE: With tech­nol­ogy so preva­lent nowa­days, bul­lies have a key to all ar­eas of life.

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