Background: Peer victimization is ubiquitous across schools and cultures, and has been suggested as one developmental pathway to anxiety disorders. However, there is a dearth of prospective studies examining this relationship. The purpose of this cohort study was to examine the association between peer victimization during adolescence and subsequent anxiety diagnoses in adulthood. A secondary aim was to investigate whether victimization increases risk for severe anxiety presentations involving diagnostic comorbidity.
Methods: The sample comprised 6,208 adolescents from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children who were interviewed about experiences of peer victimization at age 13. Maternal report of her child's victimization was also assessed. Anxiety disorders at age 18 were assessed with the Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised. Multivariable logistic regression was used to examine the association between victimization and anxiety diagnoses adjusted for potentially confounding individual and family factors. Sensitivity analyses explored whether the association was independent of diagnostic comorbidity with depression.
Results: Frequently victimized adolescents were two to three times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder than nonvictimized adolescents (OR = 2.49, 95% CI: 1.62-3.85). The association remained after adjustment for potentially confounding individual and family factors, and was not attributable to diagnostic overlap with depression. Frequently victimized adolescents were also more likely to develop multiple internalizing diagnoses in adulthood.
Conclusions: Victimized adolescents are at increased risk of anxiety disorders in later life. Interventions to reduce peer victimization and provide support for victims may be an effective strategy for reducing the burden associated with these disorders.
Keywords: ALSPAC; adolescence; anxiety; bullying; comorbidity; longitudinal; peer victimization.
© 2014 The Authors. Depression and Anxiety published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.