Prospective associations between bullying victimisation, internalised stigma, and mental health in South African adolescents living with HIV
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Background:Adolescents living with HIV may be at elevated risk of psychological problems, which are correlated with negative health outcomes. In cross-sectional research with HIV-affected adolescents, bullying victimisation and internalised HIV stigma have been associated with poorer psychological health. We extended these findings and tested longitudinal associations between bullying victimisation, internalised stigma, and mental health among adolescents living with HIV. We also tested whether relationships between bullying victimisation and psychological symptoms were mediated by internalised stigma.
Method: Adolescents living with HIV (n= 1060, 10–19 years, 55% female), who had ever initiated HIV treatment in 53 public health facilities in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, were interviewed and followed up 18 months later (n= 995, 94% retention). Participants completed well-validated measures of depression, anxiety,posttraumatic stress, bullying victimisation, and internalised stigma.
Results:After adjusting for baseline mental health and socio demographic characteristics, baseline internalised stigma prospectively predicted poorer outcomes on all psychological measures. Bullying victimisation at baselinewas not directly associated with any psychological measures at follow up; however, it was indirectly associated with all psychological measures via internalised stigma.
Limitations: Reliance on self-report measures and poor reliability of the depression scale.
Conclusions: Bullying victimisation is associated with internalised stigma, which in turn predicts psychological symptoms over time. Interventions reducing internalised stigma and associated psychological distress are needed, and these should be integrated into HIV care to ensure optimal HIV management. The implementation of bullying prevention programs may reduce internalised stigma and promote mental health among adolescents living with HIV.
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