Adolescent depression is serious and common. As adolescents spend approximately 15,000 h in school, this setting is a logical place to seek etiological factors. Research suggests there are negative associations between school climate and adolescent depressive symptoms. However, such studies typically use student reports of both climate and depressive symptoms; this is problematic because common method variance results when the same individual provides information on all variables, contributing to overestimations of associations between depressive symptoms and school climate. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine the association between teacher-reported school climate and adolescent-reported depressive symptoms. Thus, 2545 Australian high school students participated in this 5-year longitudinal study. Students completed a measure of depressive symptoms annually; their teachers (N = 882) completed a questionnaire to evaluate the quality of the school environment (i.e., safe/orderly and supportive relationships). Multi-group latent growth models revealed that more positive teacher-reported school climate was cross-sectionally associated with fewer student-reported depressive symptoms in both boys and girls, although this association was significantly stronger for girls. Longitudinally, positive school climate was associated with lower depressive symptoms but a higher rate of change of symptoms for both boys and girls. The overall findings are consistent with previous findings with student-reported school climate. However, the gender difference and the directionality of the longitudinal association between school climate and depressive symptoms over time demonstrate that additional studies of mechanisms by which school climate is connected to adolescents’ depressive symptoms are needed.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Aguilera, L., Crane, P., Hamer, M., Morrison, M., & Serrano, D. (1998). Comer schools: Are they recognisable through direct observation? Paper presented at Annual Meeting of the Annual Educational Research Association. San Diego, CA.
Akaike, H. (1974). A new look at the statistical model identification. IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control, 19, 716–723.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2006). 2001 Census QuickStats. All people, location on census night [Australia Code 0 (AUST)]. [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2001/quickstat/0?opendocument&navpos=220.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2013). 2011 Census QuickStats. All people—usual residents [Australia Code 0 (AUST)]. [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2011/quickstat/0.
Biddle, N. (2013). CAEPR Indigenous Population Project. 2011 Census Papers. Paper 13 socioeconomic outcomes. Canberra, Australia: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU.
Birmaher, B., Ryan, N. D., Williamson, D. E., Brent, D. A., Kaufman, J., Dahl, R. E., et al. (1996). Childhood and adolescent depression: A review of the past 10 years. Part I. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 1427–1439.
Brand, S., Felner, R. D., Seitsinger, A., Burns, A., & Bolton, N. (2008). A large scale study of the assessment of the social environment of middle and secondary schools: The validity and utility of teachers’ ratings of school climate, cultural pluralism, and safety problems for understanding school effects and school improvement. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 507–535.
Brand, S., Felner, R., Shim, M., Seitsinger, A., & Dumas, T. (2003). Middle school improvement and reform: Development and validation of a school-level assessment of climate, cultural pluralism, and school safety. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 570–588.
Browne, M. W., & Cudeck, R. (1989). Single sample cross-validation indices for covariance structures. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 24, 445–455.
Bryan, J., Day-Vines, N. L., Griffin, D., & Moore-Thomas, C. (2012). The disproportionality dilemma: Patterns of teacher referrals to school counselors for disruptive behavior. Journal of Counseling and Development, 90, 177–190.
Byrne, B. M. (2012). Structural equation modeling with Mplus: Basic concepts, applications, and programming. New York, NY: Routledge.
Clark, L. A., & Watson, D. (1991). Tripartite model of anxiety and depression: Psychometric evidence and taxonomic implications. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 100, 316–336.
Costello, E. J., Erkanli, A., & Angold, A. (2006). Is there an epidemic of child or adolescent depression? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 1263–1271.
Dandy, J., & Pe-Pua, R. (2010). Attitudes to multiculturalism, immigration and cultural diversity: Comparison of dominant and non-dominant groups in three Australian states. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 34, 34–46.
Davey, A., & Savla, J. (2010). Statistical power analysis with missing data: A structural equation modeling approach. New York: Routledge.
DeNavas-Walt, C., & Proctor, B. (2014). Income and poverty, in the United States: 2013. Current population reports, consumer income, P60-249. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
Dunn, V., & Goodyer, I. M. (2006). Longitudinal investigation into childhood- and adolescence-onset depression: Psychiatric outcome in early adulthood. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 188, 216–222.
Earl, L. M., & Lee, L. E. (1998). Evaluation of the Manitoba School Improvement Program. Toronto: Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.
Enders, C. K. (2006). Analyzing structural equation models with missing data. In G. R. Hancock & R. O. Mueller (Eds.), Structural equation modeling: A second course (pp. 313–344). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Espelage, D. L., & Holt, M. K. (2007). Dating violence and sexual harassment across the bully-victim continuum among middle and high school students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 799–811.
Fortin, L., Marcotte, D., Potvin, P., Royer, É., & Joly, J. (2006). Typology of students at risk of dropping out of school: Description by personal, family and school factors. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 21, 363–383.
Furlong, M. J., Greif, J. L., Bates, M. P., Whipple, A. D., Jimenez, T. C., & Morrison, R. (2005). Development of the California school climate and safety survey-short form. Psychology in the Schools, 42, 137–149.
Gardinier, M. P. (2012). Agents of change and continuity: The pivotal role of teachers in Albanian educational reform and democratization. Comparative Education Review, 56, 659–683.
Garrison, C. Z., Schluchter, M. D., Schoenbach, V. J., & Kaplan, B. K. (1989). Epidemiology of depressive symptoms in young adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28, 343–351.
Ge, X., Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H, Jr. (2001). Pubertal transition, stressful life events, and the emergence of gender differences in adolescent depressive symptoms. Developmental Psychology, 37, 404–417.
Georgiades, K., Lewinsohn, P. M., Monroe, S. M., & Seeley, J. R. (2006). Major depressive disorder in adolescence: The role of subthreshold symptoms. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45, 936–944.
Graham, J. W. (2003). Adding missing-data relevant variables to FIML-based structural equation models. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 10, 80–100.
Gregory, A., Skiba, R. J., & Noguera, P. A. (2010). The achievement gap and the discipline gap: Two sides of the same coin? Educational Researcher, 39, 59–68.
Hancock, G. R., & Lawrence, F. R. (2006). Using latent growth models to evaluate longitudinal change. In G. R. Hancock & R. O. Mueller (Eds.), Structural equation modeling: A second course (pp. 171–196). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Hankin, B. L., Abramson, L. Y., Moffitt, T. E., McGee, R., Silva, P. A., & Angell, K. E. (1998). Development of depression from preadolescence to young adulthood: Emerging gender differences in a 10-year longitudinal study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107, 128–140.
Hankin, B. L., Mermelstein, R., & Roesch, L. (2007). Sex differences in adolescent depression: Stress exposure and reactivity models. Child Development, 78, 279–295.
Hoy, W. K., & Sabo, D. (1997). Quality middle schools: Open and healthy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Hu, L.-T., & Bentler, P. M. (1995). Evaluating model fit. In R. Hoyle (Ed.), Structural equation modeling: Concepts, issues, and applications (pp. 76–99). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Humensky, J., Kuwabara, S. A., Fogel, J., Wells, C., Goodwin, B., & Van Voorhees, B. W. (2010). Adolescents with depressive symptoms and their challenges with learning in school. The Journal of School Nursing, 26, 377–392.
Jia, Y., Ling, G., Chen, X., Ke, X., Way, N., Yoshikawa, H., et al. (2009). The influence of student perceptions of school climate on socioemotional and academic adjustment: A comparison of Chinese and American adolescents. Child Development, 80, 1514–1530.
Jonsson, U., Bohman, H., Hjern, A., von Knorring, L., Olsson, G., & von Knorring, A.-L. (2010). Subsequent higher education after adolescent depression: A 15-year follow-up register study. European Psychiatry, 25, 396–401.
Kerr, D. C. R., Preuss, L. J., & King, C. A. (2006). Suicidal adolescents’ social support from family and peers: Gender-specific associations with psychopathology. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 103–113.
KewelRamani, A., Gilbertson, L., Fox, M., & Provasnik, S. (2007). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic minorities (NCES 2007–039). Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved March 6, 2016, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/2007039.pdf.
Kline, R. B. (2011). Principles and practices of structural equation modeling (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Kuperminc, G. P., Leadbeater, B. J., & Blatt, S. J. (2001). School social climate and individual differences in vulnerability to psychopathology among middle school students. Journal of School Psychology, 39, 141–159.
Kuperminc, G. P., Leadbeater, B. J., Emmons, C., & Blatt, S. J. (1997). Perceived school climate and difficulties in the social adjustment of middle school students. Applied Developmental Science, 1, 76–78.
LaRusso, M. D., Romer, D., & Selman, R. L. (2008). Teachers as builders of respectful school climates: Implications for adolescent drug use norms and depressive symptoms in high school. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 386–398.
Lin, A., Yung, A. R., Wigman, J. T. W., Killackey, E., Baksheev, G., & Wardenaar, K. J. (2014). Validation of a short adaptation of the Mood and Anxiety Symptoms Questionnaire (MASQ) in adolescents and young adults. Psychiatry Research, 215, 778–783.
Loukas, A., & Murphy, J. L. (2007). Middle school student perceptions of school climate: Examining protective functions on subsequent adjustment problems. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 293–309.
Loukas, A., & Robinson, S. (2004). Examining the moderating role of perceived school climate in early adolescent adjustment. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14, 209–233.
Lukacs, K. S., & Galluzzo, G. R. (2014). Beyond empty vessels and bridges: Toward defining teachers as the agents of school change. Teacher Development, 18, 100–106.
Marland, M. (2001). School management and pupil care. Pastoral Care in Education, 19, 25–34.
McKenzie, P., Weldon, P., Rowley, G., Murphy, M., & McMillan, J. (2014). Staff in Australia’s schools 2013: Main report on the survey. Canberra: Department of Education.
Miller, B., & Taylor, J. (2012). Racial and socioeconomic status differences in depressive symptoms among black and white youth: An examination of the mediating effects of family structure, stress and support. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 426–437.
Morrison, G. M., Redding, M., Fisher, E., & Peterson, R. (2006). Assessing school discipline. In S. Jimerson & M. Furlong (Eds.), Handbook of school violence and school safety: From research to practice (pp. 211–220). Mahawah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Múthen, L. K., & Múthen, B. O. (2013). MPlus Version 7.2 [software]. Los Angeles, CA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.statmodel.com.
Noguera, P. (2003). The trouble with Black boys: The role and influence of environmental and cultural factors on the academic performance of African American males. Urban Education, 38, 431–459.
Nolen-Hoecksema, S., & Girgus, J. S. (1994). The emergence of gender differences in depression during adolescence. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 424–443.
Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). (2005). Healthy minds: Promoting emotional health and well-being in schools. London, UK: UCL Institute of Education. Retrieved from http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5390/.
Ormerod, A. J., Collinsworth, L. L., & Perry, L. A. (2008). Critical climate: Relations among sexual harassment, climate, and outcomes for high school girls and boys. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 113–125.
Patel, V., Flisher, A. J., Hetrick, S., & McGorry, P. (2007). Mental health of young people: A global public-health challenge. Lancet, 369, 1302–1313.
Podsakoff, P., MacKenzie, S., Lee, J., & Podsakoff, N. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 879–903.
Pössel, P., Adams, E., & Valentine, J. C. (2012). Depression as a risk factor for breast cancer: Investigating methodological limitations in the literature. Cancer Causes and Control, 23, 1223–1229.
Pössel, P., Mitchell, A. M., Ronkainen, K., Kaplan, G. A., Kauhanen, J., & Valtonen, M. (2015). Do depressive symptoms predict the incidence of myocardial infarction independent of hopelessness? Journal of Health Psychology, 20, 60–68.
Pössel, P., Rudasill, K. M., Adelson, J. L., Bjerg, A. C., Wooldridge, D. T., & Winkeljohn Black, S. (2013a). Teaching behavior and well-being in students: Development and concurrent validity of an instrument to measure student-reported teaching behavior. International Journal of Emotional Education, 5, 5–30.
Pössel, P., Rudasill, K. M., Sawyer, M. G., Spence, S. H., & Bjerg, A. C. (2013b). Can supportive teacher–student relationships prevent the development of depressive symptoms in adolescents? Developmental Psychology, 49, 2135–2146.
Radloff, L. S. (1991). The use of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale in adolescents and young adults. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 20, 149–166.
Raffaele Mendez, L. M., & Knoff, H. M. (2003). Who gets suspended from school and why: A demographic analysis of schools and disciplinary infractions in a large school district. Education and Treatment of Children, 26, 30–51.
Raffaele Mendez, L. M., Knoff, H. M., & Ferron, J. M. (2002). School demographic variables and out-of-school suspension rates: A quantitative and qualitative analysis of large ethnically diverse school district. Psychology in the Schools, 39, 259–276.
Reddy, R., Rhodes, J. E., & Mulhall, P. (2003). The influence of teacher support on student adjustment in the middle school years: A latent growth curve study. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 119–138.
Roeser, R. W., Eccles, J. S., & Sameroff, A. J. (2000). School as a context of early adolescents’ academic and social-emotional development: A summary of research findings. Elementary School Journal, 100, 443–471.
Rothi, D. M., Leavey, G., & Best, R. (2008). On the front-line: Teachers as active observers of pupils’ mental health. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24, 1217–1231.
Rothman, S. & Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). (2008). Participation in vocational education and training to age 24. LSAY Briefing Reports. (LSAY Briefing; n.17) http://research.acer.edu.au/lsay_briefs/17.
Rudasill, K. M., Pössel, P., Winkeljohn Black, S., & Niehaus, K. (2014). Teacher support mediates concurrent and longitudinal associations between temperament and mild depressive symptoms in sixth grade. Early Child Development and Care, 184, 803–818. doi:10.1080/03004430.2013.821610.
Rueger, S. Y., Malecki, C. K., & Demaray, M. K. (2010). Relationship between multiple sources of perceived social support and psychological and academic adjustment in early adolescence: Comparisons across gender. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 47–61.
Rutter, M., Caspi, A., & Moffitt, T. E. (2003). Using sex differences in psychopathology to study causal mechanisms: Unifying issues and research. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 1092–1115.
Rutter, M., Maughan, B., Mortimore, P., & Ouston, J. (1979). Fifteen thousand hours. Secondary schools and their effects on children. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Saluja, G., Iachan, R., Scheidt, P. C., Overpeck, M. D., Sun, W., & Giedd, J. N. (2004). Prevalence of and risk factors for depressive symptoms among young adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158, 760–765.
Satorra, A. (2000). Scaled and adjusted restricted tests in multi-sample analysis of moment structures. In R. D. H. Heijmans, D. S. G. Pollock, & A. Satorra (Eds.), Innovations in multivariate statistical analysis. A Festschrift for Heinz Neudecker (pp. 233–247). London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Sawyer, M. G., Pfeiffer, S., Spence, S. H., Bond, L., Graetz, B., Kay, D., et al. (2010). School-based prevention of depression: A randomised controlled study of the beyondblue schools research initiative. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 199–209.
Sen, B. (2004). Adolescent propensity for depressed mood and help seeking: Race and gender differences. Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 7, 133–145.
Shirley, E. L., & Cornell, D. G. (2012). The contribution of student perceptions of school climate to understanding the disproportionate punishment of African American students in a middle school. School Psychology International, 33, 115–134.
Skiba, R. J., Michael, R. S., Nardo, A. C., & Peterson, R. L. (2002). The color of discipline: Sources of racial and gender disproportionality in school punishment. Urban Review, 34, 317–342.
Steiger, J. H. (1998). A note on multiple sample extensions of the RMSEA fit index. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 5, 411–419.
Swearer, S. M., & Espelage, D. L. (2004). A social-ecological framework of bullying among youth. In D. L. Espelage & S. M. Swearer (Eds.), Bullying in American schools: A social-ecological perspective on prevention and intervention (pp. 1–12). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Van der Heijden, H. R. M. A., Geldens, J. J. M., Beijaard, D., & Popeijus, H. L. (2015). Characteristics of teachers as change agents. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 21, 681–699.
Wang, M. (2009). School climate support for behavioral and psychological adjustment: Testing the mediating effect of social competence. School Psychology Quarterly, 24, 240–251.
Watson, C. (2014). Effective professional learning communities? The possibilities for teachers as agents of change in schools. British Educational Research Journal, 40, 18–29.
Way, N., & Robinson, M. G. (2003). A longitudinal study of the effects of family, friends, and school experiences on the psychological adjustment of ethnic minority, low-SES adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 18, 324–346.
Wilson, D. (2004). The interface of school climate and school connectedness and relationships with aggression and victimization. Journal of School Health, 74, 293–299.
Ystgaard, M., Tambs, K., & Dalgard, O. S. (1999). Life stress, social support and psychological distress in late adolescence: A longitudinal study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 34, 12–19.
This study was funded by beyondblue and the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia.
Conflict of interest
All the authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
About this article
Cite this article
Pössel, P., Rakes, C., Rudasill, K.M. et al. Associations Between Teacher-Reported School Climate and Depressive Symptoms in Australian Adolescents: A 5-Year Longitudinal Study. School Mental Health 8, 425–440 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-016-9191-2
- School climate
- Depressive symptoms
- High school students
- Longitudinal study