Anxiety should be considered a potential factor when children and young people have poor school attendance, particularly when their absences are unexcused, according to a new U.K. study published in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
“Anxiety is a major issue that not only affects young people’s schooling, but can also lead to worse academic, social and economic outcomes throughout life,” said lead author Dr. Katie Finning from the University of Exeter Medical School in England. “It’s important that we pick up the warning signs and support our young people as early as possible.
The researchers conducted a systematic review in which they analyzed all available evidence in the field. Of 4,930 studies in the area, only 11 met the criteria to be included in the robust analysis. These studies were conducted in countries across North America, Europe and Asia.
The lack of high-quality research in this area shows that much more work is needed, particularly in studies that will follow children over time to clearly disentangle whether the anxiety leads to poor school attendance or the other way round.
The researchers categorized school attendance into the following categories: absenteeism (i.e. total absences); excused/medical absences; unexcused absences/truancy; and school refusal, where the child struggles to attend school due to emotional distress, despite awareness from parents and teachers.
Findings from eight studies suggest a surprising link between truancy and anxiety, as well as the expected link between anxiety and school refusal.
“Our research has identified a gap of high-quality studies in this area, and we urgently need to address this gap so that we best understand how to give our young people the best start in life,” said Finning.
Many types of school issues can trigger anxiety in children, and anxiety that is severe can have a major impact on children’s development.
“School staff and health professionals should be alert to the possibility that anxiety might underlie poor school attendance and can also cause lots of different physical symptoms, such as tummy and headaches,” said Professor Tamsin Ford, who was involved in the research.
“Anxiety is highly treatable and we have effective treatments. It is also important to understand that anxiety can lead to impulses to avoid the thing that makes you anxious. Although this avoidance reduces anxiety in the short term, it makes it even harder to cope with the trigger next time and so makes the problem worse.”
Source: University of Exeter