Combating depression by improving school connectedness and engagement

Multiracial elementary students sitting outside talking with each other

Childhood depression is an often-overlooked mental health issue that has been consistently identified as an important predictor of future mental health difficulties. Although therapy has been shown to be an effective form of treatment, researchers consistently describe the degree of effectiveness as only modest. In a continued search for supplemental forms of treatment, several researchers have suggested that due to the strong association between interpersonal effectiveness and depression more attention should focus on the role of social factors such as social skills, engagement with teachers and peers, and school connectedness.

As would be expected, it has been reported that students with higher levels of social competence are more likely to demonstrate lower levels of depression. However, lower levels of depression does not necessarily equate to higher social competence. So, in essence the research indicates that having higher levels of social competence protects against depressive symptoms. Similarly, the degree to which a student feels connected (e.g., engaged, accepted, supported, respected, and included) to his or her school is predictive of their level of emotional distress especially depression. In fact, recent research by Shochet et al. (2008) have shown that for adolescents, school connectedness is more strongly associated with depression than parental attachment. These results suggest the impact that teacher/student and student/peer engagement can have on students who experience depressive symptoms.

Ross, Shochet, and Bellair (2010) were interested in extending their research to younger groups of students. In their study they examined the degree to which social skills and school connectedness contribute to depressive symptoms in 127 sixth and seventh grade students. Consistent with earlier findings Ross et al. reported that both a student’s self report of social skills and school connectedness were correlated with their report of depressive symptoms. Further analysis of their data indicates that students who feel connected to their school exhibit fewer depressive symptoms. Additionally they found that students who have better social skills are more likely to engage with teachers and other students and feel connected to school and consequently be less depressed.

Their research is significant for several reasons in particular because it provides yet even more evidence that school connectedness is an important factor that contributes to childhood depression and that its impact can be seen before adolescence. For school personnel who implement social skills programs, the Ross et al. study accents the importance of incorporating activities that promote student engagement, inclusion, acceptance, and support. It also highlights the role that socialization at school through interactions with peers and teachers plays in the emotional well-being of students.

For more information about the article by Ross, Shochet, and Bellair see:

Ross, A.G.., Shochet, I.M., and Bellair, R. (2010). The role of social skills and school connectedness in preadolescent depressive symptoms. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 39, 269-275.

For more research about School Connectedness see:

Resnick, M.D., Bearman, P.S., Blum, R.W., Bauman, K.E., Harris, K.M., Jones, J., et al. (1997). Protecting adolescents from harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. Journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 823-832.

Shochet, I.M., Homel, R., Dadds, M.R., Ham, D., & Montague, R. (2006). School connectedness is an underemphasized parameter in adolescent mental health: Results of a community predication study. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35, 170-179.

Shochet, I.M., Homel, R., Montgomery, D.T., & Cockshaw, W.L. (2008). How does school connectedness and attachment to parents interrelate in predicting adolescent depressive symptoms? Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 37, 676-681.

For more research about Childhood Depression see:

Weisz, J.R., McCarty, C.A., & Valeri, S.M. (2006). Effects of psychotherapy for depression in children and adolescents: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 132-149.

Zalsman, G., Brent, D.A., & Weersing, V.R. (2006). Depressive disorders in childhood and adolescence: An overview epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and risk factors. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 15, 827-841.


About the Author
Chris Huzinec

Chris Huzinec

Chris Huzinec is an educational researcher, evaluator, and consultant with over 25 years of practical experience in public education. He is currently the Director of Research at Review360 in the Clinical Assessment division of Pearson. Previously, Chris was employed by the Houston Independent School District’s Department of Research and Accountability for 15 years, first as a Research and Evaluation Specialist, and then as the Manager of the Program Evaluation and the Performance Analysis Bureaus. He has produced publications and evaluation reports in the areas of Bilingual Education, Early Childhood Education, classroom and student behavior management, and Special Education.