Depression, Anxiety and Peer Victimisation
What was the aim of the research?
Bullying is most common during early adolescence, when up to a third of all young people report experiences of being victimised by peers. In the formative years of adolescence, when the brain is still developing, youth can be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of peer victimisation.
Previous research has found close relationships between peer victimisation and depression and anxiety. Further, all three of these domains are related to a variety of negative wellbeing outcomes, such as poor school connectedness, social outcomes, quality of life, and physical health.
However, untangling the direction and nature of these relationships is hard because peer victimisation, depression, and anxiety often co-occur: Does peer victimisation predict later depression, or anxiety, or both? Do depression or anxiety predict later peer victimisation? Do any of these domains have unique relationships with negative wellbeing outcomes, or is it their combined effect that predicts poorer functioning? These are the questions that this study aimed to answer.
How did we do it?
We used data from the nationally representative Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, focusing on the cohort of kids who started the study when they were aged 4-5 (in 2004). Specifically, our analyses for this study used two waves of the data spanning the transition from childhood to early adolescence (i.e., when the children were aged 10-11, and two years later when they were 12-13) based on questionnaires filled out by the children, their parents, and their teachers.
All of these informants reported on the child’s depression and anxiety symptoms, experiences of peer victimisation, and negative wellbeing outcomes, including school connectedness (i.e. school enjoyment and belonging), social outcomes (i.e. peer relationships), quality of life (i.e. self-belief and happiness) and global health (i.e. overall physical health).
What did we find?
Peer victimisation experiences at age 10-11 predicted both depression and anxiety symptoms at age 12-13. The reverse was also true, as depression and anxiety symptoms at age 10-11 both independently predicted peer victimisation experiences at age 12-13. Further, peer victimisation, anxiety, and depression symptoms at age 10-11 each independently predicted all of the negative wellbeing outcomes at age 12-13. These relationships did not vary for boys and girls.
What does this mean in practice?
These findings highlight the importance of implementing early and broadband interventions that simultaneously target depression, anxiety and peer victimisation in schools.
Citation: Forbes, M.K., Fitzpatrick, S., Magson, N. R., Rapee, R. M., (2018) Depression, Anxiety and Peer Victimization: Bidirectional Relationships and Associated Outcomes Transitioning from Childhood to Adolescence, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-018-0922-6