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General Belonging is a Key Predictor of Adolescent Depressive Symptoms and Partially Mediates School Belonging


Rates of depression among adolescents are alarmingly high. School belonging is among the strongest predictors of adolescent depressive symptoms. Research in the adult literature indicates that context-specific belonging may contribute to an overarching sense of general belonging, which may be a stronger and more proximal predictor. This is the first study to explore the importance of general belonging among a community sample of adolescents to understand its interrelationship with school belonging in predicting depression. This multisite study includes 502 adolescents aged 13–17 from four geographically distinct Australian schools (rural, coastal, regional city, and capital city). Participants completed questionnaires measuring depressive symptoms, school, and general belonging. Confirmatory factor analysis demonstrated that school belonging, general belonging, and depressive symptoms are unique, separable constructs. Mediated regression revealed that school and general belonging accounted for 33.6% and 48.2% of the variance in depressive symptoms, respectively. General belonging partially mediated the association between school belonging and depressive symptoms, with school belonging expressing all but 7.8% of its influence on depression through general belonging. Results indicate that general belonging appears to have eclipsed school belonging as the largest known single independent correlate of adolescent depressive symptoms. Nevertheless, general belonging is strongly influenced by school belonging (accounting for approximately 35.0% of its variance). The strengths of the associations direct us to consider both context-specific and general belonging in the assessment, treatment, and prevention of adolescent depression.

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All authors were involved in the theoretical conceptualisation of the study. EP, IS, and WC designed the study. EP was responsible for the acquisition of data. EP, IS, and WC analysed the data and interpreted the results. All authors drafted the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ian M. Shochet.

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Parr, E.J., Shochet, I.M., Cockshaw, W.D. et al. General Belonging is a Key Predictor of Adolescent Depressive Symptoms and Partially Mediates School Belonging. School Mental Health 12, 626–637 (2020).

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  • Adolescence
  • General belonging
  • School belonging
  • Depression