Objective: Bullying prevalence studies are limited by varied measurement methods and a lack of representative samples. This study estimated the national prevalence of bullying victimisation, perpetration and combined victim-perpetration experiences in a representative population-based sample of Australian youth. The relationships between the three types of bullying involvement with a range of mental health symptoms and diagnoses were also examined.
Methods: A randomly selected nationally representative sample aged 11-17 years (N = 2967, M-age = 14.6 years; 51.6% male) completed the youth component of the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (Young Minds Matter). Parents or carers also completed a structured face-to-face interview that asked questions about a single randomly selected child in the household. The youth survey comprised self-reported bullying victimisation and perpetration (Olweus Bully-Victim Questionnaire-adapted), psychological distress (K10), emotional and behavioural problems (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), as well as self-harm, suicide attempts and substance use. Modules from the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children Version IV were administered to all youth and parents to assess for mental disorder diagnoses (major depressive disorder, any anxiety disorder and any externalising disorder [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder]).
Results: The 12-month prevalence of bullying victimisation was 13.3%, perpetration 1.6% and victim-perpetration 1.9%. Logistic regression models showed all forms of involvement in bullying were associated with increased risk of psychological distress, emotional and behavioural problems, substance use, self-harm and attempted suicide. Victimisation and victim-perpetration were associated with youth-reported major depressive disorder. There were also significant associations between bullying involvement and parent-reported diagnoses of major depressive disorder, any anxiety disorder and any externalising disorder.
Conclusion: Bullying continues to be frequently experienced by Australian adolescents. The current findings showed that involvement in any bullying behaviour was associated with increased risk of concurrent mental health problems. This evidence can be used to inform decisions concerning the allocation of resources to address this important health issue.