Associations Between Developmental Risk Profiles, Mental Disorders, and Student Absences Among Primary and Secondary Students in Australia

Abstract

This study assessed if the association between mental disorders and higher student absences varies across different profiles of risk factors, and estimated the proportion of student absences associated with mental disorders. Data included responses from a nationally representative Australian survey of child and adolescent mental health (Young Minds Matter, N = 5,081). A latent class analysis identified four classes of multiple risk exposure for students and their families, including On Track (55%), Low Resources (22%), Child Concerns (15%), and Overwhelmed (7%). Negative binomial regression models with adjustment for misclassification probabilities showed that absence rate ratios were higher among students classified as Low Resources (1.8 times), Child Concerns (1.7 times), or Overwhelmed (3.0 times) than On Track students. Overall, students with an anxiety or depressive disorder had 1.2 times as many absences as students without a disorder, after adjusting for latent class membership. There was no support for the hypothesis that the association between anxiety/depressive disorder and absences would be greater for students experiencing multiple risk exposures. Behavioral disorders were not associated with higher absences. Mental disorders accounted for approximately 8.6% of absences among secondary students (Years 7–12) and 2.4% of absences among primary students (Years 1–6). The estimated contribution of mental disorders to school absences is not trivial; however, the contribution is about half that estimated by previous research. The educational impacts of mental disorders must be considered in conjunction with the broader social contexts related to both mental disorders and student absences.

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Data availability

A Confidentialized Unit Record File (CURF) and associated survey metadata are available from the Australian Data Archive upon request (https://dataverse.ada.edu.au/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.4225/87/LCVEU3).

Code availability

SAS, Mplus, and Latent GOLD syntax files detailing data preparation and analysis are available from the corresponding author.

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Acknowledgements

The Centre is administered by the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland, with nodes at The University of Western Australia, The University of Melbourne, and The University of Sydney.

Funding

This study uses data from the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. The survey was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, managed by the Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia, and Roy Morgan Research carried out data collection. The secondary analysis of survey data was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (CE140100027).

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Applications for data access, and data analysis were performed by Kirsten Hancock and Leah Cave. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Leah Cave and Kirsten Hancock. Subsequent reviews and revisions were performed by Kirsten Hancock, Leah Cave, Daniel Christensen, Francis Mitrou, and Stephen Zubrick. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kirsten J. Hancock.

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Hancock, K.J., Cave, L., Christensen, D. et al. Associations Between Developmental Risk Profiles, Mental Disorders, and Student Absences Among Primary and Secondary Students in Australia. School Mental Health (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-021-09443-9

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Keywords

  • Mental health
  • Student absence
  • Student attendance
  • Mental disorders
  • Socioeconomic risk profiles