Background: Despite considerable evidence for psychological distress among children and young people who experience peer victimization, cross-sectional studies cannot determine the direction of the relationship. Several recent studies have examined associations between victimization and distress. The majority find evidence for both directions but do not arbitrate between them; only one prior study has attempted to do this.
Aims: To use longitudinal data to: (1) test competing hypotheses about the direction of the victimization-depression association; (2) investigate gender differences in the resulting models.
Sample: Data were obtained from a Scottish school-based cohort (N=2,586).
Methods: Self-completion questionnaires included a depression scale and questions on victimization at each age.
Results: Despite shifts in and out of victim status, there was evidence of stability in both victimization and depression. Bivariate analyses showed positive relationships between victimization and depression. Structural equation modelling (SEM) showed that at age 13, this relationship was reciprocal, with a stronger path from victimization to depression than vice versa. However, at age 15, it was almost entirely due to a path from depression to victimization among boys. Models including cross-lagged paths fitted the data less well than those including simultaneous associations.
Conclusions: Current policy focuses on victimization as a cause of distress; however, professionals should be aware that vulnerable children and young people are likely to be the targets of victimization.