Associations Between Teacher-Reported School Climate and Depressive Symptoms in Australian Adolescents: A 5-Year Longitudinal Study

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded by beyondblue and the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia.

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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

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Keywords

  • School climate
  • Depressive symptoms
  • High school students
  • Longitudinal study