Associations Between Bullying Involvement, Protective Factors, and Mental Health Among American Indian Youth

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Abstract

Bullying involvement as a victim or perpetrator is associated with depression and suicidality, and American Indian (AI) youth experience a disproportionately high rate of these mental health issues. This study assessed whether AI young people involved in bullying were more likely to experience negative mental health problems than AI youth who were not involved in bullying, and identified protective factors that might support this particularly vulnerable population. Data come from 1,409 8th, 9th, and 11th Grade AI students who completed the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey. Logistic regression models estimated associations between bullying involvement and internalizing symptoms and suicidality. Selected protective factors (internal assets, empowerment, positive student–teacher relationships, and feeling safe at school) were also examined as independent variables. All forms of bullying perpetration and victimization were associated with increased risk for mental health problems (odds ratio [OR]: 1.57–2.87). AI youth who reported higher levels of protective factors were less likely to report internalizing symptoms and suicidality even in the presence of bullying involvement. For example, AI youth who reported high levels of internal assets had half the odds of reporting internalizing symptoms compared with those with low levels of internal assets (OR = 0.53, confidence interval [CI] 0.38, 0.74). Findings suggest that, similar to a general sample of students, bullying-involved AI students are significantly more likely to experience mental health problems. Promoting school as a safe place and incorporating culturally relevant programming to promote internal assets such as positive identity, social competence, and empowerment among AI students could help reduce the negative effects of bullying involvement.

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