School Absenteeism, Mental Health Problems Linked
School absenteeism is a significant problem, and students who are frequently absent from school more often have symptoms of psychiatric disorders. A new longitudinal study of more than 17,000 students has found that frequently missing school is associated with a higher prevalence of mental health problems later on in adolescence, and that mental health problems during 1 year also predict missing additional school days in the following year for students in middle and high school.
The study, published in the journal Child Development, was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Florida, Boston University, the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center, the Oregon Social Learning Center and Johns Hopkins University.
"We've long known that students who are frequently absent from school are more likely to have symptoms of psychiatric disorders, but less clear is the reason why," says Jeffrey Wood, associate professor of educational psychology and psychiatry at UCLA, who led the study. "These two aspects of youths' adjustment may at times exacerbate one another, leading over the course of time to more of each."
The study found that between grades 2 and 8, students who already had mental health symptoms (such as antisocial behavior or depression) missed more school days over the course of a year than they had in the previous year and than students with few or no mental health symptoms. Conversely, middle and high school students who were chronically absent in an earlier year of the study tended to have more depression and antisocial problems in subsequent years. For example, 8th graders who were absent more than 20 days were more likely to have higher levels of anxiety and depression in 10th grade than were 8th graders who were absent fewer than 20 days.
The researchers looked at more than 17,000 children in 1st through 12th grades using 3 datasets with participants in grades 1 through 12. Researchers interviewed students and parents annually or biennially, and they gathered information from school attendance records. In addition, students, parents and teachers filled out questionnaires.