Examining Pathways between Bully Victimization, Depression, & School Belonging Among Early Adolescents

  • Jordan P. DavisEmail author
  • Gabriel J. Merrin
  • Katherine M. Ingram
  • Dorothy L. Espelage
  • Alberto Valido
  • America J. El Sheikh
Original Paper



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.


Internalizing symptoms Major Depressive Disorder Victimization Abuse Longitudinal 


Author Contributions

JPD: designed and executed the study, performed data analysis, interpreted the results, and wrote the paper; GJM: assisted in interpretation of results, collaborated in writing of the results section; KMI: collaborated in the design and writing of the manuscript; DLE: assisted in design of the study, collaborated in writing and editing of the manuscript; AV: collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript; and AJE: collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.


Data in this manuscript were drawn from a grant from the CDC (1U01/CE001677) to Dorothy Espelage (PI).

Compliance with ethical standards

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.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. IRB approval was secured at the University of Illinois.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jordan P. Davis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gabriel J. Merrin
    • 2
  • Katherine M. Ingram
    • 3
  • Dorothy L. Espelage
    • 3
  • Alberto Valido
    • 3
  • America J. El Sheikh
    • 3
  1. 1.University of Southern California, Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, Department of Children, Youth, and FamiliesUSC Center for Artificial Intelligence in SocietyLos AngelesUnited States
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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