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Longitudinal study on depression during school transitions

Longitudinal study on depression during school transitions: contribution of personal, family and school factors in the context of the transition between primary school and secondary school and between secondary school and college-level education. 

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Project summary


This nine-year longitudinal study examines personal, family, social, and school factors associated with the emergence of depression during the transitions from elementary school to secondary school and from secondary school to college in a convenience sample.


The transition from elementary school to secondary school


This study reveals that girls become more depressed between the first and second years of high school. A gender difference appears as early as secondary 1, while we observe no change among boys over time. However, for boys, pubertal changes are correlated with changes in depression. Therefore, few boys develop depression, and their puberty varies less than that of girls. However, when their depression symptoms increase, it is related to pubertal changes. Also, changes in criminal delinquency mediate the relationship between changes in puberty and changes in depression symptoms.


Between Grade 6 and Secondary 1, the variables related to the child's negative perception of the teacher mediate the personal, family and social risk factors for girls. For boys, perceptions of the classroom environment (primarily the sense of affiliation with peers and the perception that the classroom has clear rules) mediate several personal risk factors, i.e., delinquent behaviours, pubertal status and negative body image, negative attitude toward school. Perceptions of the classroom environment also mediate family factors such as low family cohesion and social factors such as bullying for boys.


For girls between elementary school and the second year of secondary school, risk factors related to low self-esteem and low family cohesion are exclusively mediated by school variables concomitant with the post-transition depression measure, i.e., peer affiliation (in the particular case of family cohesion) and the overall classroom environment. However, body image, delinquency and the number of children in the family combine two types of mediating effects. The effects of these pre-transition risk factors are mediated by post-transition school factors concomitant with depression and by changes in the perception of these factors occurring during the transition. Therefore, the impact of body image on post-transition depression is concomitantly mediated by the sense of affiliation and changes occurring during the transition in the teacher's perception of the adolescent's aggressive behaviours. Delinquency is mediated by the perception of the overall classroom environment and the sense of affiliation, both of which are concomitant with post-transition depression. Delinquency is also mediated by the change in the adolescent's perceived support from the teacher. For girls, the impact of the number of children in the family (measured before the transition) is mediated by the change in the adolescent's perceived support from her teacher and the overall post-transition classroom environment.
For boys, changes in the perception of the overall classroom environment, especially in the clarity of rules, mediate the relationship between delinquency (measured before the transition) and post-transition depression.


The transition from secondary school to college


This study aims to determine how school factors interact with personal, family and social factors to protect vulnerable young people from developing depression symptoms during the transition from secondary school to college. This study is the third and final phase of a 2003-12 SSHRC program. The number of participants was 500 at the beginning (2003) and 247 at time 9, the last year (2012). The majority of participants (57.5%) were enrolled in a pre-university college program. Contrary to previous studies' results, we observed a similar prevalence of depression symptoms in men and women once they reached adulthood, around 18 to 19 years old. 

A structural equation model analysis has revealed that personal difficulties most strongly predicted depression and adjustment in the first and second years of college. However, previous findings suggested that family factors predicted depression and adjustment in secondary school. The "personal difficulties" latent factor included negative body image, low self-esteem, cognitive distortions associated with success and dependence, poorly defined personal goals and poorly defined professional identity. Depression symptoms in secondary 5 predicted the presence of depression symptoms during the college years. Also, externalizing disorders and learning disabilities (as perceived by the teacher in secondary 5) predicted poor academic performance and depression symptoms in secondary 5. These results have already been presented in several scientific papers and will soon be published in books, chapters and scientific and professional articles.




Diane Marcotte, D., UQAM; Co-researcher  : Laurier Fortin, Université de Sherbrooke


Commission scolaire de la Riveraine, Commission scolaire des Patriotes


2003-12 SSHRC

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