The relationship between bully victimization and depression has been examined extensively with prior research showing long-term cascade of problems stemming from both exposure to victimization and depressive symptomology. However, prior research has failed to consider how protective factors may mitigate these long-term problems. Three theoretical models were tested: the interpersonal risk model, symptom driven model, and transactional model.
The present study employs a novel statistical technique to explore longitudinal reciprocal associations among bullying, depression, and school belonging in a sample of 2177 middle school students (ages 11 to 15) in a Midwestern state. We used a model building process to explore the overall association between bully victimization, depression, and school belonging as well as a multi-group model in which models were estimated for boys and girls, separately.
In our overall model, results indicated support for both symptom driven and interpersonal risk models. However, we did not find any significant buffering effect of school belonging. In our multi-group model, we found support for a buffering effect of school belonging for girls, but not boys. School belonging buffered long term problems associated with experiences of bully victimization via reductions in depression.
Our findings point to the broader concept of school structure being differentially supportive and protective for various demographic groups and the need to consider the entire social ecology of a school when planning and implementing prevention interventions.