Bullying and Anxiety: What’s the Connection? (page 2)

By and — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 16, 2011

A Word of Caution

When considering the evidence linking victimization to anxiety, two cautions are necessary. First, one’s risk of developing anxiety disorders does not depend only on whether and how one is bullied; rather, we must also consider factors such as genetics, culture, and environment (7). For example, one study found that bullies, victims, and bully-victims who reported receiving moderate social support from peers also endorsed the lowest anxiety levels (6). Thus, many factors may contribute to, or protect one from, the development of anxiety disorders.

Secondly, the studies that have been discussed here have only explored the relationship between victimization and anxiety and cannot make any causal claims. While the experience of being bullied may cause or contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, it may also be the case that individuals experiencing heightened levels of anxiety may be more vulnerable to subsequent victimization (14). Thus, we cannot conclude that being bullied leads to the development of anxiety disorders or that having an anxiety disorder leads someone to being victimized.

Summary and Future Research Directions

Evidence suggests that anxiety disorders are associated with the experience of being bullied, though some forms of bullying may be more strongly linked to anxiety than other forms. Yet, little is known about factors that may mediate or moderate the association between anxiety and bullying (4). This information is critical since a better understanding of the relationship between being bullied and anxiety may lead to better methods of assessing a student’s risk of developing anxiety disorders as well as more effective bullying prevention and intervention efforts.


1. Benjamin, R. S., Costello, E. J., & Warren, M. (1990). Anxiety disorders in a pediatric sample. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 4, 293-316. doi: 10.1016/0887-6185(90)   90027-7.

2. Chavira, D. A., Stein, M. B., Bailey, K., & Stein, M. T. (2004). Child anxiety in primary care: Prevalent but untreated. Depression and Anxiety, 20, 155-164. doi: 10.1002/da.2039

3. Duchesne, S., Vitaro, F., Larose, S., & Tremblay, R. E. (2008). Trajectories of anxiety during elementary-school years and the prediction of high school          noncompletion. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 1134-1146. doi: 10.1007/s10964-007-9224-0

4. Espelage, D. & Swearer, S. (2003). Research on school bullying and victimization: What have we learned and where do we go from here? School Psychology Review, 32, 365-383. 

5. Ginsburg, G. S., La Greca, A. M., & Silverman, W. K. (1998). Social anxiety in children with anxiety disorders: Relation with social and emotional functioning. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology: An official publication of the International Society for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology, 26, 175-185. doi: 101023/A:1022668101048

6. Holt, M. K. & Espelage, D. L. (2007). Perceived social support among bullies, victims, and bully-victims. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 984-994. doi: 10.1007/    s10964-006-9153-3

7. Huberty, T. J. (2008). Best practices in school-based interventions for anxiety and depression. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school        psychology: Vol. 5 (pp. 1473-1486). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

8. Kendall, P. C. & Suveg, C. (2006). Treating anxiety disorders in youth. In P. C. Kendall (Ed.), Child and adolescent therapy: Cognitive-behavioral procedures (3rd edition; pp. 243-294). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

9. Rigby, K. (2003). Consequences of bullying in schools. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 48, 583-590.

10. Slee, P. T. (1994). Situational and interpersonal correlates of anxiety associated with peer victimization. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 25, 91-107. doi: 10.1007/BF02253289

11. Swearer, S. M., Siebecker, A. B., Johnsen-Frerichs, L. A. & Wang, C. (2010). Assessment of bullying/victimization: The problem of comparability across studies. In S. R. Jimerson, S. M. Swearer and D. L. Espelage, (Eds.), Handbook of bullying in schools: An international perspective (pp. 305-328).New York, NY: Routledge.

12. Swearer, S. M., Song, S. Y., Cary, P. T., Eagle, J. W., & Mickelson, W. T. (2001). Psychosocial correlates in bullying and victimization: The relationship between depression, anxiety, and bully/victim status, pp. 95-121. In R. Geffner, M. Loring, and C. Young (Eds.) Bullying behavior: Current issues, research, and interventions. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press/The Haworth Press.

13. Swearer, S. M., Turner, R. K., Givens, J. E. & Pollack, W. S. (2008). “You’re so gay!”:  Do different forms of bullying matter for adolescent males? School Psychology Review, 37, 160-173.

14. Storch, E. A., Brassard, M. R., & Masia-Warner, C. L. (2003). The relationship of peer victimization to social anxiety and loneliness in adolescence. Child Study Journal, 33, 1-18.

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