Background: Exposure to peer victimization is relatively common. However, little is known about its developmental course and its effect on impairment associated with mental illnesses. We aimed to identify groups of children following differential trajectories of peer victimization from ages 6 to 13 years and to examine predictive associations of these trajectories with mental health in adolescence.
Methods: Participants were members of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, a prospective cohort of 2120 children born in 1997/98 who were followed until age 15 years. We included 1363 participants with self-reported victimization from ages 6 to 13 years and data available on their mental health status at 15 years.
Results: We identified 3 trajectories of peer victimization. The 2 prevailing groups were participants with little or moderate exposure to victimization (441/1685 [26.2%] and 1000/1685 [59.3%], respectively); the third group (244 [14.5%]) had been chronically exposed to the most severe and long-lasting levels of victimization. The most severely victimized individuals had greater odds of reporting debilitating depressive or dysthymic symptoms (odds ratio [OR] 2.56, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.27-5.17), debilitating generalized anxiety problems (OR 3.27, CI 1.64-6.51) and suicidality (OR 3.46, CI 1.53-7.81) at 15 years than those exposed to the lowest levels of victimization, after adjustment for sex, childhood mental health, family hardship and victimization perpetration. The association with suicidality remained significant after controlling for concurrent symptoms of depression or dysthymia and generalized anxiety problems.
Interpretation: Adolescents who were most severely victimized by peers had an increased risk of experiencing severe symptoms consistent with mental health problems. Given that peer victimization trajectories are established early on, interventions to reduce the risk of being victimized should start before enrolment in the formal school system.
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