Peer victimisation during adolescence and its impact on wellbeing in adulthood: A prospective cohort study

Jessica Armitage*, Adele A Wang, Oliver S.P. Davis, Lucy Bowes, Claire M A Haworth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Background: Peer victimisation is a common occurrence and has well-established links with a range of psychiatric problems in adulthood. Significantly less is known however, about how victimisation influences positive aspects of mental health such as wellbeing. The purpose of this study was therefore to assess for the first time, whether peer victimisation in adolescence is associated with adult wellbeing. We aimed to understand whether individuals who avoid a diagnosis of depression after victimisation, maintain good wellbeing in later life, and therefore display resilience.

Methods: Longitudinal data was taken from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a prospective cohort study based in the UK. Peer victimisation was assessed at 13 years using a modified version of the bullying and friendship interview schedule, and wellbeing at age 23 using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale. The presence or absence of depression was diagnosed using the Clinical Interview Schedule–Revised at 18 years. A series of logistic and linear regression analyses were used to explore relationships between peer victimisation, depression, and wellbeing, adjusting for potentially confounding individual and family factors. 

Results: Just over 15% of victims of frequent bullying had a diagnosis of depression at age 18.  Victimisation also had a significant impact on wellbeing, with a one-point increase in frequent victimisation associated with a 2.71-point (SE=0.46, p<0.001) decrease in wellbeing scores aged 23. This finding remained after adjustment for the mediating and moderating effects of depression, suggesting that the burden of victimisation extends beyond depression to impact wellbeing. Results therefore show that individuals who remain partially resilient by avoiding a diagnosis of depression after victimisation have significantly poorer wellbeing than their non-victimised counterparts.

Conclusion: Overall, our study demonstrates for the first time that victimisation during adolescence is a significant risk factor for not only the onset of depression, but also poor wellbeing in adulthood. Such findings highlight the importance of investigating both dimensions of mental health to understand the true burden of victimisation and subsequent resilience.

In addition to the need for interventions that reduce the likelihood of depression following adolescent victimisation, efforts should also be made to promote good wellbeing. 

Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 Jan 2021

Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health
  • Mental Health Data Science


  • Victimisation, Wellbeing, Resilience, Adolescence, Depression, ALSPAC


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