Four out of five Irish teenagers questioned by Ireland’s largest independent mental health service have been recent victims of cyber-bullying.

Some 80 percent of teenagers referred to the adolescent services of St Patrick’s University Hospital (SPUH) had experienced online bullying. Other common issues included eating disorders, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse.

Most recently, Co. Leitrim teenager Ciara Pugsley took her own life on September 19.

A student at St Clare’s Comprehensive School in Manorhamilton, speculation continues to mount that the 15-year-old was the victim of cyber bullying, reported the Longford Leader.

SPUH medical director Prof Jim Lucey expressed concern over the research.

"The trouble is that there is no escape from cyber-bullying like there is from bullying in the schoolyard. The impact of things being online means there is no going back, the genie is out of the bottle," he said.

"The magnetisation of exposure is huge because if five so-called friends are saying something bad on Facebook, they will have another 500 friends and it enlarges very quickly."

According to Prof Lucey, cyber- bullies use three strategies:

•    Taunting, name-calling, and abusive comments.
•    Aggressive and threatening behaviour, including circulation of photos of the victim.
•    Impersonation of somebody by creating the impression the victim has made nasty comments about others.

"It can start with something like an anonymous online poll and suddenly someone is made to believe they’re the ugliest in the class," said Prof Lucey.

"We need to improve education around the issue, technology is moving very quickly and our response as parents, educators and clinical leaders is way behind," Prof Lucey said.

"All schools are moving towards whiteboards and computer literacy, but with that comes the opportunity and necessity to educate young people around these issues," he added.

"Children don’t seem to realise the impact of what they are getting involved in, they don’t have the same scepticism as adults."

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