The role of cyber analysts often entails continuous exposure to distressing and harmful content, including violent or explicit material, hate speech, and other forms of abusive content. Given the persistent exposure to such content, the mental health of cyber analysts, particularly those working in Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT), can be negatively affected.
The Impact of SOCMINT on Mental Health
Cyber analysts are tasked with the responsibility of scrutinizing vast amounts of data, much of which may contain harmful or distressing content. Jones, Thomas, and Jiang (2020) discuss the potential for significant psychological stress resulting from exposure to this type of content, specifically noting symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. This concept, known as vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress, can profoundly impact the analysts’ well-being.
Furthermore, working in cyber intelligence often involves an element of isolation due to the sensitive nature of the work. The disconnect from others and feeling alone in the struggle can intensify the negative psychological impact (Brown, Kumar, & Rajgopal, 2021).
Social Media Reprogramming
The concept of social media reprogramming refers to the alteration of a person’s cognition, beliefs, or behaviors due to persistent exposure to specific types of content on social media platforms. Long-term exposure to distressing content can change worldviews, perception of self, and overall mental health, resulting in symptoms such as sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts, emotional numbing, and diminished interest in previously enjoyed activities (Reardon, 2019).
Holistic Approaches to Address Mental Health Disorders in Cyber Analysts
Implementing holistic approaches that emphasize overall well-being could be beneficial to counter these adverse effects.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation can be helpful strategies to manage the stress and anxiety stemming from exposure to harmful online content. Studies like the one conducted by Anderson, Lau, Segal, and Bishop (2020) have shown the benefits of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in a work setting.
Physical exercise is another essential aspect of maintaining mental well-being. Regular physical activity has been associated with reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression and can contribute to enhanced mood and overall mental health (Stubbs et al., 2017).
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
EAPs that provide mental health support can be invaluable for cyber analysts. These programs typically offer confidential psychological assessments, short-term counseling, and referral services to employees struggling with personal or work-related issues (Attridge et al., 2019).
Regular Breaks and Downtime
Taking regular breaks and ensuring sufficient downtime can also help mitigate the negative impact of stress. Scheduled breaks during work hours and sufficient vacation time can prevent burnout and support overall mental health (Pepper, Dembla, & Anderson, 2021).
In conclusion, while the exact prevalence of mental health disorders among cyber analysts is still unclear, the potential for psychological harm from their work is significant. However, implementing holistic wellness strategies can be highly effective in mitigating these effects.
Anderson, N. D., Lau, M. A., Segal, Z. V., & Bishop, S. R. (2020). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and pharmacotherapy for chronic depression: A randomized dismantling trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 88(7), 940–952. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000504
Attridge, M., Amaral, T., Bjornson, T., Goplerud, E., Herlihy, P., McPherson, T., Paul, R., Routledge, S., Sharar, D., Stephenson, D., & Teems, L. (2019). EAP effectiveness and ROI. Journal of Employee Assistance, 49(1), 18-23.
Brown, A. D., Kumar, S., & Rajgopal, S. (2021). The power of workplace wellness: a theoretical and practical approach. Journal of Management & Organization, 27(2), 235–254. https://doi.org/10.1017/jmo.2019.86
Jones, R., Thomas, N., & Jiang, Y. (2020). Cyber workers at risk of psychological distress, new study reveals. International Journal of Cyber Psychology, 1(1), 65-78.
Pepper, G., Dembla, P., & Anderson, A. (2021). Work Breaks and Well-being: An Examination Across Different Organizational Sizes. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 33(2), 109–127. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10672-020-09345-7
Reardon, S. (2019). The hidden harms of the digital world. Nature, 573(7774), S14-S16.
Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Rosenbaum, S., Firth, J., Cosco, T., Veronese, N., Salum, G., & Schuch, F. (2017). An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, 249, 102–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2016.12.020