School Absenteeism Linked to Mental Health Problems

School absenteeism and psychopathology are reciprocally associated, especially in adolescence

THURSDAY, Dec. 22 (HealthDay News) -- School absenteeism may be reciprocally associated with psychopathology during childhood and adolescence, according to a study published online Dec. 21 in Child Development.

Jeffrey J. Wood, Ph.D., from the University of California in Los Angeles, and colleagues investigated whether there are reciprocal influences between school absenteeism and psychological problems. One national and two regional longitudinal datasets of school students from first through 12th grades were analyzed (20,745; 2,311; and 671 participants, respectively). Interviews were conducted annually and biannually to assess psychopathology through self-, parent-, and teacher-reported questionnaires.

The investigators found that middle-school students in the nationally representative dataset with more absenteeism in study year one were more likely to show increased depression and conduct problems in study year two (after adjusting for demographic covariates and the effects of autoregressive associations). Students who had mental health symptoms (such as antisocial behavior or depression) in the first year of the study likewise had increased absenteeism in year two and also had more absenteeism than did students without mental health problems in year one. Analyses with two regionally representative datasets partially supported the results. More evident longitudinal links between absenteeism and mental health problems were seen in adolescence than in childhood.

"The present findings represent an important step towards examining reciprocal relations among absenteeism and youth psychopathology," the authors write. "Further delineation of the characteristics of youth exhibiting high levels of absenteeism who are most likely to go on to develop psychopathology would be useful in planning for the development of a school-based selective prevention model for this at-risk group of youth."

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