Results from a Finnish study show there is a significant relationship between peer victimization and social phobia (SP) in adolescents.
In a 2-year study of 2070 Finnish adolescents who were aged a mean of 15.5 years at baseline, the researchers found that there was a bidirectional association between direct peer victimization (bullying at school) and SP in boys, and a unidirectional association between relational peer victimization (social group exclusion) and SP in girls.
"The present exploratory study indicates that there are different longitudinal associations between victimization and SP among boys and girls as they progress from middle to late adolescence," comment Klaus Ranta (Tampere University Hospital) and colleagues.
All of the participants were enrolled in the Adolescent Mental Health Cohort Study and were assessed for SP at baseline and follow up using the Social Phobia Inventory, with a score of 24 or higher indicating the presence of SP.
Peer victimization (direct and relational) was assessed at both time points using questions from a World Health Organization youth study, and the presence of depression was assessed using the 13-item Beck Depression Inventory (BDI).
Overall, 4.8% and 2.5% of boys reported direct victimization at baseline and follow up, respectively, as did a corresponding 2.2% and 0.7% of girls. Regarding relational victimization, 2.3% and 2.7 % of boys and 2.0% and 2.0% of girls reported this form of victimization at baseline and follow up, respectively.
The team found that, in boys, direct victimization was an independent predictor for SP, at an odds ratio (OR) of 2.6, and vice versa, at an OR of 3.9.
Among girls, relational victimization predicted SP, at an OR of 2.8, but SP did not predict relational victimization.
There were no other significant associations between victimization and SP in boys or girls.
However, the researchers also note that the presence of depression (BDI =8) predicted direct victimization in girls, at an OR of 4.3.
Writing in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, Ranta et al comment: "Peer victimization can be regarded as a major threat for mental health during childhood and adolescence."
They add: "Boys may be more reluctant to report victimization than girls, and SP probably does not make reporting it any easier. Thus, victimization experiences should be elicited in a direct, but emphatic manner when encountering boys with SP.
"Girls who have been victimized by exclusion should be informed that it may carry a risk for subsequent social anxiety and offered psychoeducation for such SP symptoms which may cause them functional harm in the future."
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