A new research now finds that anxiety can be a factor in poor school attendance among children and young people. The study, by the University of Exeter Medical School conducted a systematic review, which analyses all available evidence in the field.
The study, published in Child and Adolescent Mental Health, increases our understanding of the link between anxiety and poor school attendance, particularly when unexcused.
The research, supported by the Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Health Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) South West Peninsula (PenCLAHRC), says more studies are needed that follow children over time to clearly disentangle whether the anxiety leads to poor school attendance or the other way round.
The team categorised 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 suggested a surprising association between truancy and anxiety, as well as the expected link between anxiety and school refusal.
Lead author Katie Finning said, “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. It’s important that we pick up the warning signs and support our young people as early as possible. 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.”
Professor Tamsin Ford, who was involved in the research, further added “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”.
Lots of things about school can trigger anxiety in children and it is important to realise that while we all get anxious about somethings, anxiety that is severe can have a major impact on children’s development.
The researchers concluded that anxiety is highly treatable and there are effective treatments. It is also important to understand that anxiety can lead to impulses to avoid the thing that makes one 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.
Child anxiety could be a factor in school absences