Do Bullied Children Become Anxious and Depressed Adults?: A Cross-Sectional Investigation of the Correlates of Bullying and Anxious Depression

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There is little empirical research examining the historical and clinical correlates of exposure to childhood bullying in adult clinical subjects. Using structured clinical assessments, the authors studied a group of adult males and females presenting to an outpatient depression clinic, to examine the childhood risk factors and the distinguishing comorbid features associated with those reporting exposure to bullying. Just over a quarter of both men and women reported having experienced bullying that was severe and traumatic. More of these subjects also reported several other well studied childhood risk factors. Childhood correlates that were particularly relevant for exposure to bullying were parental overcontrol, illness or disability, and the tendency to have an inhibited temperament early in life. The experience of childhood bullying was strongly related to high levels of comorbid anxiety, both in terms of greater levels of state anxiety and a higher prevalence of both social phobia and agoraphobia. Independent of other childhood risk factors, exposure to bullying was especially predictive of subjects’ higher levels of general state anxiety and the tendency to express anxious arousal externally when under stress. These results are compatible with both cross-sectional and prospective studies of child and adolescent samples, and highlight the potential etiological significance of early peer victimization experiences for a percentage of adults suffering from depression with comorbid anxiety.

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