A Multilevel Analysis of the Association Between School Climate Dimensions and Adolescent Depressive Symptoms
Methods: A secondary analysis was conducted using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). School climate was conceptualized and measured with five constructs: perceived school connectedness, perceived teacher support, harshness of discipline policies, presence of mental health and social services at school, and median school-level income. Depressive symptoms were measured with 19-items from the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D) Scale. The study sample included adolescents (N=9,524) and schools (N=105) with completed responses on the key study variables. Multilevel mixed-effects linear regression was employed to address the research aims.
Results: Controlling for individual and school level demographic variables, higher perceived school connectedness (β=1.29; SE=.1; p<0.001), higher perceived teacher support (β=.84; SE=.09; p<0.001), and higher median school level income (β= -.01; SE=.006; p<0.001) were significantly associated with fewer depressive symptoms in the multilevel model. There was a statistically significant difference between racial majority and minority youth (t (9524) =59.70, p=0.00) as well as between sexual majority and minority youth (t (9524) =17.51, p=0.00) on depressive symptoms at Wave II. Racial (M=12.3) and sexual minority youth (M=13.5) had significantly more depressive symptoms than majority youth. Belonging to a racial minority (β=.73; SE=.14; p<0.001) or sexual minority group (β=.85; SE=.27; p<0.01) were strong, significant predictors of depressive symptoms. The relationships between each school climate dimension and depressive symptoms did not vary for racial or sexual minority youth.
Implications: The results from the current study provide implications for social work practice, policy, and future research. School social workers can play a critical role in promoting adolescent connectedness to school and fostering positive student-teacher relationships. Policies to support school climate initiatives particularly in relation to accountability and technical support for school climate initiatives are also needed. Directions for future research are provided including additional exploration into the relationship between school discipline policies and mental health outcomes in youth and a review of school climate measures to ensure they accurately assess the school experiences of minority youth.