Long-term Mental Health Benefits of School Belonging

New research highlights the importance of community.
May 21, 2024
All for one, one for all.

School belonging plays crucial role in shaping mental wellbeing in adolescents.

Characterised by positive affect towards school, strong relationships with teachers, and feeling socially valued, school belonging, has long been associated with immediate benefits for students' mental health.

Researchers studied over 1,500 young adults in one of Australia's longest running population-based studies of socioemotional development, to reveal the long-term mental health outcomes of school belonging on the transition to adulthood in a collaboration between Monash University, Deakin University, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne.

The research assessed school belonging at the age of 15-16 and mental health symptoms at age 19-20, 23-24, and 27-28 years.

The research outlines the importance of school belonging as an intervention target with lasting impacts on mental health. As schools and communities seek to address the challenges faced by today's youth, focusing on initiatives that enhance students' sense of acceptance and respect within the school environment becomes paramount.

Julie Young, Principal of Foundation College says “Students have immensely different backgrounds and when students feel connected to school we find this common thread supports their growth and achievement. It builds confidence and in turn we find it supports their mental health.”

Associate Professor Kelly-Ann Allen from the Faculty of Education at Monash, said the findings indicate that higher levels of school belonging are linked to lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress in young adulthood.

“The study highlights the significance of adolescent school belonging, particularly the feeling of being socially valued, as a protective factor against later mental health issues. The results emphasise the need for sustained interventions and programs that extend beyond the school setting, establishing a strong foundation for positive engagement in various environments during the transition to adulthood,” Associate Professor Allen said.

According to Dr Meredith O’Connor from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, these findings come at a crucial time, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identifies belonging as a major trend in education with the potential to counteract increasing loneliness, social isolation and mental health problems in many societies.

“The long term follow-up of individuals within the Australian Temperament Project allowed us to examine how experiences of school belonging mattered for young adults’ wellbeing almost a decade later, which is a unique and important contribution to the existing evidence base,” Dr O’Connor said.

Professor Andrea Reupert from the Faculty of Education and co-author of the paper said in order to prevent mental health in adulthood, change must start in school.

“Schools are opportunistic sites for mental health prevention and promotion, especially for vulnerable young people. Promoting school belonging and student wellbeing may protect against other vulnerabilities such as adverse home conditions,” said Professor Reupert.

Image by Dio Hasbi Saniskoro