When High School Really IS Depressing

Teen depression symptoms relate to quality of school social and educational environment

(RxWiki News) There is no shortage of teenagers who will tell you their high school is a depressing place. But some of them may be on to something.

A recent study looked at whether a school's social and educational environment is linked to students' depression symptoms.

The researchers found there is a slight link between the two. The quality of the school environment in 8th grade could partly predict depression symptoms in students in 10th and 11th grades.

Girls were slightly more likely than boys to have higher levels of depression symptoms following a poorer school environment.

"Seek help if your child shows depression symptoms."

The study, led by Frédéric N. Brière, PhD, from the School Environment Research Group at the University of Montreal in Canada, aimed to understand how a school's social and educational environment might interact with students' risk of depression.

The researchers tracked 5,262 teenagers from 71 high schools throughout Quebec, Canada, from 7th grade through 11th grade. These schools included French- and English-speaking schools as well as small, mid-size and large schools.

Each student was assessed in terms of their depression symptoms in 7th grade and then again in 10th and 11th grades.

All the students in each school - beyond just the ones included in the study - also filled out questionnaires in 8th grade that enabled the researchers to rate the school's socio-educational environment.

The quality of a school's socio-educational environment was based on four broad categories: fairness and rules, social climate, safety and learning opportunities.

Fairness and rules related to how clear the rules are and how equitably they're implemented, surveillance in the school and whether the school fostered a "climate of justice."

The social climate measure included quality of relationship among students alone and between students and teachers. Safety referred to a "climate of security and the amount of school violence.

The learning opportunities measure related to the teachers' practices and classroom management, extracurriculars, student decision-making opportunities, academic support and the overall educational climate.

The researchers then compared three measures: the overall socio-educational environment of the school based on the total student assessment, the environment as perceived by individual students in the study, and the depression symptoms among the individual students in the study.

This comparison allowed the researchers to figure out whether depression symptoms were related primarily to how a student personally viewed their school or more to how the school's environment really appears to be based on a school-wide evaluation.

The researchers found two associations in analyzing the results. They found first that "students who perceived their school environment to be more positive than the average student in their school were at lower risk of developing depressive symptoms over time." This matched past research findings.

Then they found that the overall quality of the school's social and educational environment was linked to the number of students experiencing symptoms of depression a few years later.

Students whose 8th grade schools were ranked lower in terms of the environment tended to be more likely to have symptoms of depression in 10th and 11th grades.

This link was a little stronger in girls than in boys. Although the overall link between school environment and depression was not very strong, it was enough that the researchers could rule out their findings being due to chance.

The researchers took into account in their analysis the size of the school, the school's socioeconomics and students' family adversity, depression symptoms in 7th grade, anxiety about school, conflict with parents and intelligence.

The researchers suggested that this link may relate to the ways some schools better support students in academics and overall healthy development.

"Adolescents who feel connected to their school tend to have better peer relationships, motivation, and achievement, and have been repeatedly found to be at reduced risk of emotional problems, including [depression]," the researchers also noted.

The study was published February 11 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by a postdoctoral scholarship from the School Environment Research Group. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 10, 2013