A cross-lagged twin study of emotional symptoms, social isolation, and peer victimisation from early adolescence to emerging adulthood

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Abstract

Background: Emotional symptoms, such as anxiety and depressive symptoms, are common during adolescence, often persist over time, and can precede the emergence of severe anxiety and depressive disorders. Studies suggest that a vicious cycle of reciprocal influences between emotional symptoms and interpersonal difficulties may explain why some adolescents suffer from persisting emotional symptoms. However, the role of different types of interpersonal difficulties, such as social isolation and peer victimisation, in these reciprocal associations is still unclear. In addition, the lack of longitudinal twin studies conducted on emotional symptoms during adolescence means that the genetic and environmental contributions to these relationships during adolescence remain unknown. Methods: Participants (N = 15,869) from the Twins Early Development Study completed self-reports of emotional symptoms, social isolation and peer victimisation at 12, 16 and 21 years old. A phenotypic cross-lagged model examined reciprocal associations between variables over time, and a genetic extension of this model examined the aetiology of the relationships between variables at each timepoint. Results: First, emotional symptoms were reciprocally and independently associated with both social isolation and peer victimisation over time, indicating that different forms of interpersonal difficulties uniquely contributed to emotional symptoms during adolescence and vice versa. Second, early peer victimisation predicted later emotional symptoms via social isolation in mid-adolescence, indicating that social isolation may constitute an intermediate pathway through which peer victimisation predicts longer-term emotional symptoms. Finally, individual differences in emotional symptoms were mostly accounted for by non-shared environmental factors at each timepoint, and both gene–environment and individual-specific environmental mechanisms were involved in the relationships between emotional symptoms and interpersonal difficulties. Conclusions: Our study highlights the necessity to intervene early in adolescence to prevent the escalation of emotional symptoms over time and to consider social isolation and peer victimisation as important risk factors for the long-term persistence of emotional symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1569-1582
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Child Psychiatry & Psychology
Volume64
Issue number11
Early online date6 Jun 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023

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