Childhood Bullying Linked To Depression In Young Adulthood

Dr. Lucy Bowes Ph.D Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow Fellow of Magdalen College Department of Experimental Psychology University of Oxford Interview with:
Dr. Lucy Bowes Ph.D
Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow
Fellow of Magdalen College
Department of Experimental Psychology
University of Oxford Oxford

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Major depression is a severe mental illness, and a leading contributor to the global burden of disease. Rates of depression begin to rise in the teenage years, though the reasons for this remain unclear. Peers become particularly important during this time, and victimisation by peers or “bullying” has been proposed as one potentially modifiable risk factor for depression. There are robust findings that peer victimisation in childhood is associated with short-term internalizing symptoms, however it remains unclear whether victimization in the teenage years is associated with major depression. Only a relatively small number of longitudinal studies have prospectively investigated victimisation in relation to depression meeting diagnostic criteria in late adolescence or adulthood. Limitations of these studies include poor measures of bullying, lack of adjustment for key confounders such as baseline emotional and behavioral difficulties and child maltreatment.

Our prospective cohort observational study, published in The BMJ, used detailed self-report data on peer victimisation at 13 years from 6,719 participants of the ALSPAC or ‘Children of the 90s’ study. The outcome was depression at 18 years, measured using a self-administered computerised version of the Clinical Interview Schedule Revised, CIS-R (data available for 3,898 participants). We adjusted for a range of confounders including baseline emotional and behavioral problems, family background and other risk factors. Of the 683 children who reported frequent victimisation at 13 years, 101 (14.8%) were depressed at 18 years. Of the 1,446 children reporting some victimisation, 103 (7.1%) were depressed, and of the 1,769 children reporting no victimisation at 13 years, 98 (5.5%) were depressed. Children who were frequently victimized had over a two-fold increase in odds of depression compared with children who were not victimized by peers. This association was slightly reduced when adjusting for key confounders. The population attributable fraction suggested that 29% of depression at 18 could be explained by peer victimisation if this were a causal relationship.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Our findings suggest that a substantial proportion of the burden of depression in the early adult years may be attributed to peer victimization, assuming that this is a causal relationship. There are effective interventions to reduce peer victimization, particularly in secondary schools, and these should be refined and evaluated to determine whether this reduces rates of depression.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Our findings support those of other studies showing a link between bullying and later mental health difficulties. We now need to focus on the mechanisms by which being bullied leads to depression in some individuals but not in others. There are effective interventions at the school-level for reducing overall rates of victimization, and these could be complemented by interventions to support vulnerable children who have experienced bullying and reduce the likelihood that they will go on to develop depression.


Peer victimisation during adolescence and its impact on depression in early adulthood: prospective cohort study in the United Kingdom

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 02 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2469

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Dr. Lucy Bowes Ph.D, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow, Fellow of Magdalen College, Department of Experimental Psychology, & University of Oxford Oxford (2015). Childhood Bullying Linked To Depression In Young Adulthood

Last Updated on June 4, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD