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

Abstract

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.

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Funding

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

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Correspondence to Melissa K. Holt.

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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.

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Reid, G.M., Holt, M.K., Bowman, C.E. et al. Perceived Social Support and Mental Health among First-Year College Students with Histories of Bullying Victimization. J Child Fam Stud 25, 3331–3341 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-016-0477-7

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Keywords

  • Bullying
  • College adjustment
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Perceived social support