Child anxiety could be factor in school absences, research concludes

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New research has concluded that anxiety can be a factor in poor school attendance among children and young people.

A team at 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), also identifies the lack of high-quality research in the area. In particular, we need more studies that follow children over time to clearly disentangle whether the anxiety leads to poor school attendance or the other way round.

Of 4,930 studies in the area, only 11 met the criteria which meant they could be included in the robust analysis. They were conducted in countries across North America, Europe and Asia.

The team categorised school attendance into the following categories: absenteeism (i.e. total absences); excused/medical absences; unexcused absences/truancy; and , 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, said: “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.

“Anxiety is highly treatable and we have effective treatments. It is also important to understand that anxiety can lead to impulses to avoid the thing that makes you 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. Most anxiety treatments work by teaching the child ways to calm themselves and slowly, with support, helping the child to prove to themselves that they can cope with things that make them anxious.

The full paper is entitled ‘The association between anxiety and poor attendance at school: A systematic review’ and is open access.

ENDS

Please note that this press release has been issued by University of Exeter Medical School. This is an independent blog and the views expressed in it do not necessarily represent ACAMH’s.

About the University of Exeter Medical School

The University of Exeter Medical School is improving the health of the South West and beyond, through the development of high quality graduates and world-leading research that has international impact.

 

As part of a Russell Group university, we combine this world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Part of the University of Exeter’s College for Medicine and Health, the University of Exeter Medical School’s Medicine programme is ranked 5th in the Guardian Guide 2018, while Medical Imaging is ranked 2nd, in the Complete University Guide 2018, under Radiography. Exeter has over 19,000 students and is ranked 12th in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the University ranked 16th nationally, with 98% of its research rated as being of international quality. Exeter’s Clinical Medicine research was ranked 3rd in the country, based on research outputs that were rated world-leading. Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care research also ranked in the top ten, in joint 9th for research outputs rated world-leading or internationally excellent.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation’s largest funder of health and care research.

The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

Patient data citation 

This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support and would not have been possible without access to this data. The NIHR recognises and values the role of patient data, securely accessed and stored, both in underpinning and leading to improvements in research and care. www.nihr.ac.uk/patientdata

For further information please contact Louise Vennells, Press and Media Manager, University of Exeter Medical School

Discussion

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My daughter has a lot of time off school due to her anxiety but getting the help and support needed for her is so hard. She is 13 now and has been getting worse from when she was 8. After waiting 10 months for banardos, she has 6 sessions with them then thats it. Im hoping it will give her some help her but 6 sessions isn’t enough, children need continuous support either one to one or in small groups. Its been a long battle and i will continue to fight for her, theres just not enough help and parents can only do so much.

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My child, now 15, had so much anxiety that he couldn’t get into school (from the age of 11), he managed a Learning Centre for a bit but the anxiety built up again and he couldn’t attend. The staff, though nice, did not understand and I was threatened with being fined for non attendance, they would not look at the reasons why he couldn’t go, lots of parent blame. He had on line learning, then the council shut it down due to costs. To cut a long story short I took my child out of school & now home educate, not following curriculum, some Maths & English but mostly life skills which will be far more beneficial for his independence. He has ASD, OCD, high anxiety & high sensory processing, he does not have a learning disability and so was turned down by specialist schools because of this. The support just was not there.

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