Bullying and sexual abuse and their association with harmful behaviours, antidepressant use and health-related quality of life in adulthood: A population-based study in South Australia 11 Medical and Health Sciences 1117 Public Health and Health Services 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences 1701 Psychology

David Alejandro González-Chica, Julio Licinio, Michael Musker, Mali Wong, Jacqueline Bowden, Phillipa Hay, Catherine Chittleborough, Nigel Stocks

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Few representative sample studies have reported estimates of bullying and sexual abuse in Australia. By using face-to-face interviews and self-labelling questions, we investigated the prevalence of these forms of abuse and their relationship with current harmful behaviours (smoking dependence, excessive alcohol intake, binge eating), antidepressant use, and the physical (PCS) and mental (MCS) components of health-related quality of life. Methods: This study was a population-based survey that investigated 2873 South Australians in 2015 (48.8 ± 18.1 years; 49.3% males). Bullying and sexual abuse (age of onset and duration) and their outcomes were investigated through household interviews. Associations were adjusted for sociodemographic variables by using regression models. Results: 45.6% (95% CI 43.3-47.9) of the participants were bullied, and 10.4% (95% CI 9.1-11.9) sexually abused; 7.3% (95% CI 6.2-8.5) reported experiencing both forms of abuse. Moreover, 15.8% of those bullied and 15.0% of those sexually abused suffered from these forms of abuse for > 24 months. Smoking dependence (7.8%) was twice as frequent among those who experienced bullying for > 24 months or when sexual abuse occurred in childhood (< 10 years) or adulthood (20+ years) or lasted ≥1 month. Excessive alcohol intake (14.3%) was more frequent when bullying occurred in childhood or lasted > 24 months. Binge eating (8.1%) was more frequent among those bullied or sexually abused in adulthood, but duration did not show a clear pattern. Antidepressant use was up to four times more likely, and PCS or MCS lower among those who were bullied or sexually abused, independent of when these forms of abuse started or their duration. The cumulative adverse relationship of bullying and sexual abuse with the investigated outcomes was more evident for smoking dependence, binge eating, PCS, and MCS than for antidepressant use, but no association was observed with alcohol intake. Conclusions: The use of self-labelling questions to investigate sensitive areas such as bullying and sexual abuse in a survey is feasible. Such questions provided estimates that are consistent with findings from studies using more detailed instruments. Bullying and sexual abuse have an additive adverse association with various outcomes. Identifying survivors of both forms of abuse is important to avoid more serious consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 7 Jan 2019


  • Behavioural symptoms
  • Bullying
  • Child abuse
  • Mental health
  • Quality of life
  • Sexual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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