Little research has examined the role of cyberbullying victimization to understand its influence on depression, drug use, and suicidal thoughts/behaviors of sexual minority students. Since COVID-19 began, college students have spent more time in cyberspace for online education or social activity. Increased time in cyberspace is likely to lead to greater exposure to cyberbullying among college students, particularly sexual minority students. The unpredictability of long-term consequences of COVID may escalate psychological and behavioral fatigue. This study examined the influence of cyberbullying victimization on psychosocial and behavioral problems in sexual minority college students during the COVID-19 epidemic by employing general strain theory and minority status-related stress theories.
Data were collected at two midwestern and south-central United States universities during the 2021 fall semester by using a cross-sectional study with an online survey. A total 317 college students included in the final analysis were 18 to 24 years old or older; 69.7% were female; 49.8% were White, 34.0% were Hispanic, and 16.2% were of other race/ethnicity. Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was used to test the direct association (Hypothesis 1, sexual minority status in college students will be associated with an increase in risk of high levels of depression, drug use, and suicidal thoughts/behaviors) and the indirect associations (Hypothesis 2, sexual minority status in college students will likely involve in cyberbullying victimization, and those college students will be associated with higher levels of depression, drug use, and suicidal thoughts/behaviors).
The goodness-of-fit indices were CFI = .952, TLI = .943, SRMR = .053, RMSEA = .041. Estimated fit indices showed that the model was an acceptable model fit. For the first hypothesis, sexual minority status was positively associated with high levels of depression (β = .379, p = .007) and cyberbullying victimization (β = .486, p = .001), and cyberbullying victimization was positively associated with drug use (β = .236, p = .015). For the second hypothesis, cyberbullying victimization was a significant mediator between sexual minority status and high levels of depression (β = .162, 95%; CI = .051 to .273).
Conclusions and Implications
This exploratory study provides evidence that sexual minority status in college students is associated with an increase in the risk of becoming a victim of cyberbullying, which can contribute to high levels of depressive symptoms. These findings have implications for educators and administrators who work to reduce psychosocial and behavioral problems in sexual minority college students who have been victims of cyberbullying. For example, awareness groups on college campuses that promote and create LGBTQIA+ acceptance and provide education and access to counseling and other mental health services should be prioritized. Also, the importance of providing mental health support services to cyberbullying victims cannot be overstated.