Exclusion from school can trigger long-term psychiatric illness

July 20, 2017, University of Exeter
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Excluding children from school may lead to long- term psychiatric problems and psychological distress, a study of thousands of children has shown.

Research by the University of Exeter, published in the journal Psychological Medicine this month, found that a new onset may be a consequence of from .

The study also found that – separately – poor can lead to exclusion from school.

Professor Tamsin Ford, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Exeter's Medical School, warned that excluded can develop a range of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety as well as behavioural disturbance. The impact of excluding a child from school on their education and progress is often long term, and this work suggests that their mental health may also deteriorate.

The study is the most rigorous study of the impact of exclusion from school among the general population so far and included a standardised assessment of children's difficulties. It coincides with the publication today of official statistics showing the number of permanent and fixed exclusions from school in 2015/16.

Consistently poor behaviour in the classroom is the main reason for school exclusion, with many students, mainly of secondary school age, facing repeated dismissal from school. Relatively few pupils are expelled from school, but Professor Ford warned that even temporary exclusions can amplify psychological distress.

Professor Ford, who practises as a child and adolescent psychiatrist as well as carrying out research, said identifying children who struggle in class could, if coupled with tailored support, prevent exclusion and improve their success at school, while exclusion might precipitate future mental disorder. These severe psychological difficulties are often persistent so could then require long-term clinical support by the NHS.

Professor Ford said: "For children who really struggle at school, exclusion can be a relief as it removes them from an unbearable situation with the result that on their return to school they will behave even more badly to escape again. As such, it becomes an entirely counterproductive disciplinary tool as for these children it encourages the very behaviour that it intends to punish. By avoiding exclusion and finding other solutions to poor behaviour, schools can help children's mental health in the future as well as their education."

Exclusion from school is commoner among boys, secondary school pupils, and those living in socio-economically deprived circumstances. Poor general health and learning disabilities, as well as having parents with mental illness, is also associated with exclusion.

The analysis by a team led by Professor Ford of responses from over 5,000 school-aged children, their parents and their teachers in the British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys collected by the Office of National Statistics on behalf of the Department of Health found that children with learning difficulties and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and autism spectrum conditions were more likely to be excluded from the classroom.

The research team found more children with mental disorder among those who had been excluded from school, when they followed up on their progress, than those who had not. The research team omitted children who had a previous mental disorder from this analysis.

The researchers concluded there is a 'bi-directional association' between psychological distress and exclusion: children with psychological distress and mental-health problems are more likely to be excluded in the first place but exclusion predicted increased levels of three years later.

Claire Parker, a researcher at the University of Exeter Medical School, who carried out doctoral research on the project said: "Although an exclusion from school may only last for a day or two, the impact and repercussions for the child and parents are much wider. Exclusion often marks a turning point during an ongoing difficult time for the child, parent and those trying to support the child in school."

Most research into the impact of exclusion has so far involved the study of individuals' experience and narratives from much smaller groups of people chosen because of their experience, which may not be so representative.

This study included an analysis of detailed questionnaires filled in by children parents and teachers as well as an assessment of disorder by child psychiatrists, drawing on data from over 5,000 children in two linked surveys to allow the researchers to compare their responses with students who had been excluded. This sample from the general population included over 200 children who had experienced at least one exclusion.

The report concluded: "Support for children whose behaviour challenges school systems is important. Timely intervention may prevent exclusion from school as well as future psychopathology. A number of vulnerable children may face exclusion from school that might be avoided with suitable interventions."

Professor Ford added: "Given the established link between children's behaviour, classroom climate and teachers' mental health, burn out and self-efficacy, greater availability of timely support for children whose behaviour is challenging might also improve teachers' productivity and school effectiveness."

Explore further: Starting school young can put child wellbeing at risk

More information: Psychological Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1017/S003329171700215X

Related Stories

Starting school young can put child wellbeing at risk

June 22, 2017
New research has shown that the youngest pupils in each school year group could be at risk of worse mental health than their older classmates.

Children's mental health survey launched

November 11, 2015
The first report on the mental health of young people between the ages of two and 19 will involve an expert researcher from the University of Exeter Medical School.

Exclusion more harmful to teens than overt bullying

September 3, 2015
A UQ researcher has found that social exclusion among teens can be more harmful than direct bullying.

Mother's personality can affect child's mental health

June 6, 2017
Scientists have looked at over 8,000 parents and children in Children of the 90s and found that the children of women with personality traits associated with emotional and relationship difficulties were at greater risk of ...

Aussie kids seeking help with ADHD, anxiety disorders

April 6, 2016
Almost one in seven Australian children suffers from a mental health disorder over the course of a year, according to a Telethon Kids Institute (TKI) study.

Recommended for you

Link between hallucinations and dopamine not such a mystery, finds study

February 16, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) found that people with schizophrenia who experience auditory hallucinations tend to hear what they expect, ...

People find comfort listening to the same songs over and over, study finds

February 16, 2018
With the frequency that some people play their favorite song, it's a good thing vinyl records aren't used often because they might wear out.

Ketamine found to reduce bursting in brain area reducing depression quickly

February 15, 2018
A team of researchers at Zhejiang University in China has found that the drug ketamine reduces neuronal bursting in the lateral habenula (LHb) brain region, reducing symptoms of depression in rodent models. In their paper ...

What predicts the quality of children's friendships? Study shows cognition, emotion together play

February 15, 2018
Whether children think their peers' intentions are benign or hostile, and how those children experience and express their own emotions, may influence the quality of their friendships, according to a new study from the University ...

Evidence shows pets can help people with mental health problems

February 15, 2018
The study of 17 research papers by academics at the Universities of Manchester, Southampton and Liverpool, concludes that pets can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.

Personality: Where does it come from and how does it work?

February 14, 2018
How do our personalities develop? What do we come with and what is built from our experiences? Once developed, how does personality work? These questions have been steeped in controversy for almost as long as psychology has ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.