Brain Sciences


Study links poor mental health to educational outcomes

14 February 2019

A new report by EBPU published in the journal European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry aimed to investigate the association between educational attainment, absence from school and mental health difficulties.


The research demonstrated that those who had mental health difficulties were more likely to have lower attainment when it came to educational outcomes, and were more likely to be persistently absent from school.

Over 15,000 Year 7 pupils from England completed questions about their mental health and wellbeing as part of the HeadStart programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

Their responses, combined with information about attainment and absenteeism held in the National Pupil Database showed that the odds of persistent absenteeism were much higher for those with emotional difficulties, behavioural difficulties, and hyperactivity or inattention difficulties. Persistent absenteeism refers to pupils missing 10% or more of their possible sessions during an academic year.

Previous evidence for the association between mental health difficulties and academic outcomes has been sparse and showed mixed results. However, the results from this new study emphasise a distinct association between educational attainment, absence from school and mental health difficulties while taking into account various child characteristics such as special educational needs and socioeconomic background.

EBPU Research Fellow and lead author, Dr Tanya Lereya, said: “The results of the current study highlight the importance of prevention, early intervention and school-based support for mental health difficulties and the importance of integration between mental health support and policy creation in relation to mental health difficulties and wellbeing in schools.”

“Schools across England are increasingly a focus of attention as a key site for support for mental health and wellbeing and previous research has shown that teachers are the most commonly contacted mental health support. However, the main focus of education reforms has been on curriculum and academic outcomes.

"This research has shown the importance for policy and practice initiatives to help build better links between schools and mental health services and mental health providers to consider educational outcomes as potential indicators of mental health difficulties.”