Adult mental health consequences of peer bullying and maltreatment in childhood: two cohorts in two countries.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

BACKGROUND: The adult mental health consequences of childhood maltreatment are well documented. Maltreatment by peers (ie, bullying) has also been shown to have long-term adverse effects. We aimed to determine whether these effects are just due to being exposed to both maltreatment and bullying or whether bullying has a unique effect. METHODS: We used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the UK (ALSPAC) and the Great Smoky Mountains Study in the USA (GSMS) longitudinal studies. In ALSPAC, maltreatment was assessed as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, or severe maladaptive parenting (or both) between ages 8 weeks and 8·6 years, as reported by the mother in questionnaires, and being bullied was assessed with child reports at 8, 10, and 13 years using the previously validated Bullying and Friendship Interview Schedule. In GSMS, both maltreatment and bullying were repeatedly assessed with annual parent and child interviews between ages 9 and 16 years. To identify the association between maltreatment, being bullied, and mental health problems, binary logistic regression analyses were run. The primary outcome variable was overall mental health problem (any anxiety, depression, or self-harm or suicidality). FINDINGS: 4026 children from the ALSPAC cohort and 1420 children from the GSMS cohort provided information about bullying victimisation, maltreatment, and overall mental health problems. The ALSPAC study started in 1991 and the GSMS cohort enrolled participants from 1993. Compared with children who were not maltreated or bullied, children who were only maltreated were at increased risk for depression in young adulthood in models adjusted for sex and family hardships according to the GSMS cohort (odds ratio [OR] 4·1, 95% CI 1·5-11·7). According to the ALSPAC cohort, those who were only being maltreated were not at increased risk for any mental health problem compared with children who were not maltreated or bullied. By contrast, those who were both maltreated and bullied were at increased risk for overall mental health problems, anxiety, and depression according to both cohorts and self-harm according to the ALSPAC cohort compared with neutral children. Children who were bullied by peers only were more likely than children who were maltreated only to have mental health problems in both cohorts (ALSPAC OR 1·6, 95% CI 1·1-2·2; p=0·005; GSMS 3·8, 1·8-7·9, p<0·0001), with differences in anxiety (GSMS OR 4·9; 95% CI 2·0-12·0), depression (ALSPAC 1·7, 1·1-2·7), and self-harm (ALSPAC 1·7, 1·1-2·6) between the two cohorts. INTERPRETATION: Being bullied by peers in childhood had generally worse long-term adverse effects on young adults' mental health. These effects were not explained by poly-victimisation. The findings have important implications for public health planning and service development for dealing with peer bullying. FUNDING: Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NARSAD (Early Career Award), and the William T Grant Foundation.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Lereya, ST; Copeland, WE; Costello, EJ; Wolke, D

Published Date

  • June 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 2 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 524 - 531

PubMed ID

  • 26360448

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC4580734

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2215-0374

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00165-0


  • eng

Conference Location

  • England