Emotional disorder and absence from school: findings from the 2004 British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey

Finning, Katie; Ford, Tamsin; Moore, Darren A.; Ukoumunne, Obioha C.
February 2020
European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry;Feb2020, Vol. 29 Issue 2, p187
Academic Journal
Emotional disorder may be associated with absence from school, but the existing evidence is methodologically weak. We studied the relationships between anxiety, depression and emotional difficulties, and school absence (total, authorised and unauthorised) using data from the 2004 British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey (BCAMHS). The BCAMHS was a cross-sectional, community survey of 7977 5- to 16-year-olds. Emotional disorder was assessed using the Development and Wellbeing Assessment (DAWBA), and emotional difficulties using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) completed by teachers and parents. Teachers reported days absent in the previous school term. Multivariable negative binomial regression was used to examine the impact of emotional disorder and difficulties on absence. Age, gender and general health were explored as moderators. Anxiety, depression and emotional difficulties were associated with higher rates of all types of absence [rate ratios for total absence: anxiety 1.69 (1.39–2.06) p < 0.001; depression 3.40 (2.46–4.69) p < 0.001; parent-reported emotional difficulties 1.07 (1.05–1.10) p < 0.001; teacher-reported emotional difficulties 1.10 (1.08–1.13) p < 0.001]. The strongest association was observed for depression and unauthorised absence. Relationships were stronger for secondary compared to primary school children. Health and educational professionals should be aware that children with poor attendance may be experiencing emotional ill health, regardless of absence type. The absence may provide a useful tool to identify those who require additional mental health support. Findings highlight the widespread burden of emotional disorder and the need to support those with emotional ill health in continuing to access education.


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