Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 25, Issue 11, pp 3331–3341 | Cite as

Perceived Social Support and Mental Health among First-Year College Students with Histories of Bullying Victimization

  • Gerald M. Reid
  • Melissa K. HoltEmail author
  • Chelsey E. Bowman
  • Dorothy L. Espelage
  • Jennifer Greif Green
Original Paper


Although childhood bullying victimization is associated with adult depression and anxiety, the majority of previously bullied youth do not develop psychopathology. Identifying protective factors has implications for designing interventions that can support a successful adjustment to emerging adulthood. In this study, we investigate whether perceived social support protects against depression and anxiety among first-year college students who had previously experienced bullying. We collected data from 1474 first-year college students attending four large universities across the United States. Students completed a web-based survey in fall 2012 (Wave 1) and 436 (29.5 %) participated in a follow-up survey in spring 2013 (Wave 2). Participants reported on childhood bullying victimization, current depression and anxiety, and current social support (overall and from family, friends, and significant others). Results indicated that a history of childhood bullying victimization was positively associated with depression and anxiety in both fall and spring. Further, overall social support reported in fall moderated the association between childhood bullying victimization and fall and spring anxiety. Also, higher levels of perceived family support, in particular, buffered previously bullied students’ risk for spring anxiety. Results suggest that perceptions of familial social support during the initial adjustment to college may protect previously bullied first-year students from anxiety during their adjustment to college. Research and clinical implications, study limitations, and future directions are discussed.


Bullying College adjustment Depression Anxiety Perceived social support 



The study was not funded by a grant. Incentives for participation were funded by the Boston University School of Education.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Baker, O. E., & Bugay, A. (2011). Mediator and moderator role of loneliness in the relationship between peer victimization and depressive symptoms. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 21, 175–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bowes, L., Joinson, C., Wolke, D., & Lewis, G. (2015). Peer victimisation during adolescence and its impact on depression in early adulthood: Prospective cohort study in the United Kingdom. British Medical Journal, 350(h2469), 1–13.Google Scholar
  3. Brewin, C. R., Andrews, B., & Valentine, J. D. (2000). Meta-analysis of risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder in trauma-exposed adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 748–766.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Cheng, S.-T., Cheung, K. C. C., & Cheung, C.-K. (2008). Peer victimization and depression among Hong Kong adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64, 766–776.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Chu, P. S., Saucier, D. A., & Hafner, E. (2010). Meta-analysis of the relationships between social support and well-being in children and adolescents. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29, 624–645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cleary, M., Walter, G., & Jackson, D. (2011). “Not always smooth sailing”: Mental health issues associated with the transition from high school to college. Issues In Mental Health Nursing, 32, 250–254.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 98, 310–357.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Colarossi, L. G., & Eccles, J. S. (2003). Differential effects of support providers on adolescents’ mental health. Social Work Research, 27, 19–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cook, C. R., Williams, K. R., Guerra, N. G., Kim, T. E., & Sadek, S. (2010). Predictors of bullying and victimization in childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic investigation. School Psychology Quarterly, 25, 65–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Copeland, W. E., Wolke, D., Angold, A., & Costello, E. J. (2013). Adult psychiatric outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence. JAMA Pyschiatry, 70, 419–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Davidson, L. M., & Demaray, M. K. (2007). Social support as a moderator between victimization and internalizing-externalizing distress from bullying. School Pscyhology Review, 36, 383–405.Google Scholar
  12. Demaray, M. K., & Malecki, C. K. (2003). Perceptions of the frequency and importance of social support by students classified as victims, bullies, and bully/victims in an urban middle school. School Psychology Review, 32, 471–489.Google Scholar
  13. Deroma, V. M., Leach, J. B., & Leverett, J. P. (2009). The relationship between depression and college academic performance. College Student Journal, 43, 325–334.Google Scholar
  14. Eisenberg, D., & Chung, H. (2012). Adequacy of depression treatment among college students in the United States. General Hospital Psychiatry, 34, 213–220.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Eisenberg, D., Hunt, J., & Speer, N. (2013). Mental health in American colleges and universities: Variation across student subgroups and across campuses. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 201, 60–67.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Evans, C. B. R., Fraser, M. W., & Cotter, K. L. (2014). The effectiveness of school-based bullying prevention programs: A systematic review. Aggresion and Violent Behavior, 19, 532–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Felix, E. D., Sharkey, J. D., Green, J. G., Furlong, M. J., & Tanigawa, D. (2011). Getting precise and pragmatic about the assessment of bullying: The development of the California Bullying Victimization Scale. Agressive Behavior, 37, 234–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Finch, J. F., Okun, M. A., Pool, G. J., & Ruehlman, L. S. (1999). A comparison of the influence of conflictual and supportive social interactions on psychological distress. Journal of Personality, 67, 581–621.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Gall, T. L., Evans, D. R., & Bellerose, S. (2000). Transition to first-year university: Patterns of change in adjustment across life domains and times. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 544–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gallagher, R. (2008). National survey of counseling center directors. Alexandria, VA: International Association of Counseling Services.Google Scholar
  21. Gladden, R. M., Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Hamburger, M. E., & Lumpkin, C. D. (2013). Bullying surveillance among youths: Uniform definitions for public health and recommended data elements, Version 1.0. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  22. Gren-Landell, M., Aho, N., Andersson, G., & Svedin, C. G. (2011). Social anxiety disorder and victimization in a community sample of adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 569–577.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Gruttadaro, D., & Crudo, D. (2012). College students speak: A survey report on mental health. Arlington, VA: National Alliance on Mental Illness.Google Scholar
  24. Hefner, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2009). Social support and menal health among college students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79, 491–499.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Holt, M. K., & Espelage, D. L. (2007). Perceived social support among bullies, victims, and bully-victims. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(8), 984–994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Holt, M. K., Green, J. G., Reid, G., Dimeo, A., Espleage, D. L., Felix, E. D., & Sharkey, J. D. (2014). Associations between past bullying experiences and initial adjustment to college. Journal of American College Health, 62, 552–560.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Holt, M. K., Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Polanin, J. R., Holland, K. M., DeGue, S., Matjasko, J. L., & Reid, G. (2015). Bullying and suicidal ideation and behaviors: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 135, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jantzer, A. M., Hoover, J. H., & Narloch, R. (2006). The relationship between school-aged bullying and trust, shyness and quality of friendships in young adulthood: A preliminary research note. School Psychology International, 27, 146–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kaltiala-Heino, R., Fröjd, S., & Marttunen, M. (2010). Involvement in bullying and depression in a 2-year follow-up in middle adolescence. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 19, 45–55.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Kaltiala-Heino, R., Rimpela, P. R., & Pampela, A. (2000). Bullying at school: An indicator of adolescents at risk for mental disorders. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 661–674.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Kirsch, D. J., Pinder-Amaker, S. L., Morse, C., Ellison, M. L., Doerfler, L. A., & Riba, M. B. (2014). Population-based initiatives in college mental health: Students helping students to overcome obstacles. Current Psychiatry Reports, 16, 525.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Kroenke, K., Spitzer, R. L., & Williams, J. B. (2001). The PHQ9: Validity of a brief depression severity measure. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 16, 606–613.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. Lakey, B., & Cronin, A. (2008). Low social support and major depression: Research, theory and metholodological issues. In K. S. Dobson & D. Dozois (Eds.), Risk factors for depression (pp. 385–408). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  35. Lindsey, B. J., Fabiano, P., & Stark, S. (2009). The prevalance and correlates of depression among college students. College Student Journal, 43, 999–1014.Google Scholar
  36. Lowe, B., Decker, O., Muller, S., Brahler, E., Schellberg, D., Herzog, W., & Herzberg, P. Y. (2008). Validation and standardization of the General Anxiety Disorder Screener (GAD-7) in the general population. Medical Care, 46, 266–274.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. McCabe, R. E., Miller, J. L., Laugesen, N., Antony, M. M., & Young, L. (2010). The relationship between anxiety disorders in adults and recalled childhood teasing. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 24, 238–342.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. McLean, C. P., Asnaani, A., Litz, B. T., & Hofmann, S. G. (2011). Gender differences in anxiety disorders: Prevalence, course of illness, comorbidity and burden of illness. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 45, 1027–1035.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  39. Meltzer, H., Vostanis, P., Ford, T., Bebbington, P., & Dennis, M. S. (2011). Victims of bullying in childhood and suicide attempts in adulthood. European Psychiatry, 26, 498–503.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Modecki, K. L., Minchin, J., Harbaugh, A. G., Guerra, N. G., & Runions, K. C. (2014). Bullying prevalence across contexts: A meta-analysis measuring cyber and traditional bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55, 602–611.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Morrell, H. E. R., Cohen, L. M., Bacchi, D., & West, J. (2005). Predictors of smoking and smokeless tobacco use in college students: A preliminary study using web-based survey methodology. Journal of American College Health, 54, 108–115.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Newman, M. L., Holden, G. W., & Delville, Y. (2005). Isolation and the stress of being bullied. Journal of Adolescence, 28, 343–357.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Pettit, J. W., Roberts, R. E., Lewinsohn, P. M., Seeley, J. R., & Yaroslavsky, I. (2011). Developmental relations between perceived social support and depressive symptoms through emerging adulthood: Blood is thicker than water. Journal of Family Psychology, 25, 127–136.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  44. Pritchard, M. E., Wilson, G. S., & Yamnitz, B. (2007). What predicts adjustment among college students? A longitudinal panel study. Journal of American College Health, 56, 15–21.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Rigby, K. (2000). Effects of peer victimization in schools and perceived social support on adolescent well-being. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 57–68.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Sax, L. J., Gilmartin, S. K., & Bryant, A. N. (2003). Assessing response rates and nonresponse bias in web and paper surveys. Research in Higher Education, 44, 409–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sheets, E. S., & Craighead, W. E. (2014). Comparing chronic interpersonal and noninterpersonal stress domains as predictors of depression recurrence in emerging adults. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 63, 36–42.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Shortt, A. L., & Spence, S. H. (2006). Risk and protective factors for depression in youth. Behavior Change, 23, 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Smith, P. K., Talamelli, L., Cowie, H., Naylor, P., & Chauhan, P. (2004). Profiles of non-victims, escaped victims, continuing victims and new victims of school bullying. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 565–581.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Spitzer, R. L., Kroenke, K., Williams, J. B., & Lowe, B. (2007). A brief measure for assessing generalized anxiety disorder: The GAD-7. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166, 1092–1097.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tanigawa, D., Furlong, M. J., Felix, E. D., & Sharkey, J. D. (2011). The protective role of perceived social support against the manifestation of depressive symptoms in peer victims. Journal of School Violence, 10, 393–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tanner, J., & Arnett, J. (2009). The emergence of ‘emerging adulthood’. In A. Furlong (Ed.), Handbook of youth and young adulthood: New perspectives and agendas (pp. 39–45). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  53. Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45, 89–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ttofi, M. M., Farrington, D. P., Losel, F., & Loeber, R. (2011). Do the victims of school bullies tend to become depressed later in life? A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Journal of Aggression, 3, 63–73.Google Scholar
  55. World Health Organization (2012). Risk to mental health: An overview of vulnerabilities and risk factors.
  56. Yeager, D. S., Fong, C. J., Lee, H. Y., & Espelage, D. L. (2015). Declines in efficacy of anti-bullying programs among older adolescents: A developmental theory and a three-level meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 37, 36–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zimet, G. D., Dahlem, N. W., Zimit, S. G., & Farley, G. K. (1988). The multidimensional scale of perceived social support. Journal of Personality Assessment, 52(1), 30–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zwierzynska, K., Wolke, D., & Lereya, T. S. (2013). Peer victimization in childhood and internalizing problems in adolescence: A prospective longitudinal study. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41, 309–323.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald M. Reid
    • 1
  • Melissa K. Holt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Chelsey E. Bowman
    • 1
  • Dorothy L. Espelage
    • 2
  • Jennifer Greif Green
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Development, School of EducationBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Child Development, College of EducationUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Special Education, School of EducationBoston UniversityBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations