Methods: Data are from an ongoing NIDA-funded study conducted in Chile with over 800 12-17 year olds (M=14 years, 51% male) from municipalities of mid-to-low-SES. In 2008-2009, youth completed Wave 1 assessments consisting of a 2-hr interviewer-administered questionnaire with comprehensive questions on demographics, mental health, health, school, and family characteristics. Wave 2 assessments will be completed in one year. Academic achievement was measured with a composite score of four questions from Achenbach's YSR asking youth to indicate how well they performed in each of four academic subjects (Spanish/Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Arithmetic/Math, Science) (M=11.8, SD=2.3; α=0.71). The YSR withdrawn/depressed scale was the main predictor variable (M=4.3, SD=2.8; α=0.68). Age, sex, and SES were included as demographic controls. Teacher support was assessed by 2 items indicating how close students feel to their teachers and whether they feel teachers treat them fairly (α=0.73). Quality of the relationship with mother (α=0.89) and father (α=0.89) were assessed separately with 17 items each. Quality of relationship with peers was assessed by 6 items (α=0.64). Bivariate and multivariate OLS regression analyses were conducted with STATA 10.0.
Results: Being withdrawn/depressed was inversely associated with academic achievement (β=-.12, p<.0001). This association was unaffected after controlling for demographics (β=-.12, p<.0001) but it decreased when teacher support was added to the model, though it remained significant (β=-.11, p<0.0001). Teacher support was positively associated with achievement (β=.30 p<0.0001). When relationship with mother and father were added, only mother relationship was positively associated with achievement (β=.02, p<.05); the association between withdrawn/depressed and achievement decreased minimally β=.09, p<.01). The association between being withdrawn/depressed and achievement again decreased minimally (β=.-.08 p<0.01) when peer support was added to the model; peer support was also positively associated with achievement (β=.05 p<.01).
Conclusions and Implications: In this international study, we find that adolescents who are withdrawn/depressed are less likely to do well in school, yet social support offers protective effects. School interventions aimed at improving teacher, mother and peer relationships may offer some help, but may not sufficiently address the needs of students who display withdrawn/depressive behaviors. Given that withdrawn/depressed students are less likely to be readily identified as at-risk by school personnel than students exhibiting externalizing behaviors (e.g. aggression, truancy), further research is needed to understand how best to support the academic success of these adolescents who are generally invisible in the school system.