May 18, 2011

Social Anxiety Disorder and Victimization

Gren-Landell, M., Aho, N., Andersson, G., & Svedin, C.G. (2011). Social anxiety disorder and victimization in a community sample of adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 569-577.

People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) are very scared or worried about social situations. The authors argue here that peer victimization might be important in the development of this problem, and were particularly interested in the relationship between SAD and different types of peer-victimization.

A representative, community sample of 3211 Swedish adolescents took part. All participants were 17 years old (51% female) and they completed an online questionnaire which allowed the researchers to classify all participants as either ‘probable cases’ of SAD or not. The young people also reported on their experiences of different types of victimization: conventional crime (e.g. robbery), maltreatment (e.g. physical abuse by a parent), peer or sibling victimization (e.g. bullying, dating violence), sexual victimization (e.g. rape, verbal sexual harassment), and witnessing victimization (e.g. domestic violence, war). For each of these five types of victimization, students were asked to report whether these things had happened in the preceding 12 months or before that time.

Overall, SAD was present in 10.6% of the group, and rates were highest amongst females, those in large cities, and those born abroad or whose parents were born abroad.

The young people who were classified as ‘probable cases’ of SAD reported more lifetime victimization overall, and higher levels of maltreatment, sexual victimization and peer or sibling victimization. They did not differ on levels of conventional crime or on levels of witnessing victimization. There were also some gender differences which indicated that ‘lifetime’ levels of peer or sibling victimization was the only important precursor to SAD for males. In contrast, ‘recent’ experiences peer or sibling victimization and ‘recent’ experiences of sexual victimization were important for SAD among females. Among females, ‘lifetime’ experiences of peer or sibling victimization, sexual victimization, and maltreatment were all important.

The authors note the importance, for both researchers and clinicians, of looking into the gender-specific relationships between types of victimization and SAD.

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