The prevalence of depression among adolescents and early adolescents in China has received more attention in recent years. Few studies have examined the influence of both autonomy and relatedness support combined as a protective and corrective effect on depression. The authors find the Chinese context a “strong testing ground for the universal importance of the combined impacts of autonomy and relatedness support on depression.” The authors examine the trends in depression in a 3-year longitudinal study investigating the impacts of teacher autonomy and support and teacher-student relationships on students’ depressive symptoms.
How teachers can help students
Some studies have shown that teacher autonomy support can act as a protective factor against student depression. In a teaching context, this means providing students with choice, providing rationale for tasks, showing respect and allowing the expression of negative effects.
Again studies have indicated that positive teacher-student relationships act as a protective factor against student depressive symptoms, including enhancing students’ social competence.
The Chinese education context is characterized by high-stakes testing and exam systems and more authoritative teaching styles. This highly competitive system has caused unique features of depression in Chinese students. Meta-analyses suggest that contrary to the gender differences reported in Western cultures for Chinese primary and middle school students there are no significant gender differences in the prevalence of depressive symptoms. The great value that Chinese culture places on interpersonal harmony also means that the quality of interpersonal relationships exerted a stronger impact on depressive symptoms in Chinese adolescents than in their western counterparts.
The importance of teacher autonomy support
This research is based on a 3-year longitudinal study. Data was collected as part of a large-scale educational assessment of all schools in the Mentou-gou School District, which is located in the western area of Beijing, China. In total, 1613 4th-grade students from 25 primary schools and 1397 7th-grade students from 14 middle schools were recruited during the baseline assessment in 2014. Tracking the same group of students, a second and third assessment was implemented in 2015 and 2016. “The results of this study revealed that for both the primary and middle school samples, teacher autonomy support and teacher–student relationships consistently buffered the students’ depressive symptoms over time.” These findings align with the conclusions from previous studies.
The importance of teacher-student relationships
Gender differences were only present in the primary school sample, with females having a lower initial score that increased significantly over time, compared to the male students whose scores declined over time. In middle school, depressive symptoms increased significantly with a similar rate of change regardless of gender, although females still maintained a higher baseline. The authors suggest that this is different from the Western cultural context (where female students were more likely to show a higher rate of increased depressive symptoms than their male peers) because of Chinese cultural influences. Female students who are more likely to follow and obey rules would receive more positive feedback from teachers and parents, and Chinese females typically academically outperform their male peers at this age, both of which could act as protective factors.
Students who had higher socioeconomic backgrounds reported lower levels of depressive symptoms. This finding is consistent with current research.
“The study confirmed the significant effects of teachers’ autonomous and supportive strategies on reducing students’ depressive symptoms in both primary and middle school.” In China, studies have found that interpersonal stress significantly predicted the depression levels of Chinese pupils. This implies that teacher-student relationships are an especially crucial factor in students’ development in a Chinese context, with a higher potential impact to offset students’ depressive symptoms.
“As indicated by this study, establishing a harmonious and autonomy-supportive school environment could benefit students in many ways and might reduce the potential risks of psychological problems. This implication is particularly meaningful in the schooling context, where the general teaching styles are less autonomy supportive.”
“Therefore, schools should provide teachers with training programmes regarding need-supportive teaching strategies and enhance teachers’ awareness of the importance of mental health.”
“To empower students with more autonomy, teachers could provide students with opportunities to express their thoughts and make choices, show concern for students’ negative emotions, and use noncontrolling language during instruction. In addition, teachers could improve students’ sense of relatedness by listening, expressing care, and being available during difficulties.”
This study serves as further research on the importance of positive student-teacher relationships and the benefits it has for teaching and learning as well as meeting a student’s developmental, emotional and academic needs. It also highlights the benefits of promoting student autonomy in the learning process. When students are given voice and choice they are more empowered, engaged, and connected to the learning environment, ultimately having positive impacts on both their academic and mental-wellbeing.
Zhang, D., Jin, B., & Cui, Y. (2021). Do teacher autonomy support and teacher–student relationships influence students’ depression? A 3-year longitudinal study. School Mental Health: A Multidisciplinary Research and Practice Journal. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-021-09456-4
Special educators were already experiencing high rates of stress and burnout before the pandemic. This study emphasizes the additional stress on special educators during the pandemic. Educators are experiencing more stress, depression, anxiety, and mental exhaustion regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or school funding. —Tanya Farrol
Mental Health Impacts
This study focuses on the mental health impact on special education teachers (SETs) during the pandemic in the US. Before the pandemic, there were national shortages of special educators as many were leaving the profession due to stress and burnout. With the onset of the pandemic, there have been no studies to focus on the mental health impact on special educators. The authors of this study aimed to “(1) provide a nationwide view of levels of stress, burnout, and mental health of SETs, (2) examine differences in stress, burnout, and mental health by race, ethnicity, gender, and school demographics of SETs, and (3) examine the increased impact of the pandemic on stress, burnout, and mental health overall of SETs.”
A survey was created using Qualtrics and a flyer was created to advertise for special educators in public and charter schools throughout the US. The survey used the following measures:
- Maslach Burnout Inventory – Educators Survey:1 specifically, the emotional exhaustion scale was used.
- Patient Health Questionnaire:2 used in diagnosing and assessing depression based on the DSM-IV criteria for major depressive disorder.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale:3 a self-screening tool for diagnosing and assessing general anxiety.
- Teacher Specific Stress:4 used to assess 7 sources of stress in relation to teaching:
- classroom management;
- poor student academic performance;
- lack of student motivation;
- supporting students with special needs;
- time and workload pressures;
- problems with school administration; and
The data for the survey was collected during the fall of 2020, as the first part of a three-part long study. Four hundred and sixty-eight participants completed the survey with the majority being women (88.7%), and White (85.5%). Latinos made up 6.2% of the survey and 9% were Black. The average age of the respondents was 43.
The results show that special educators found that COVID had a significant impact on stress (91%), depression (58%), anxiety (76%), and emotional exhaustion (83%). Black special educators had less emotional exhaustion and teacher stress than non-Black special educators. There were no significant diagnostic differences based on race, ethnicity, gender, or school funding.
Based on the results, “a strikingly large percentage of SETs are experiencing clinically diagnosable symptoms of [general anxiety disorder] GAD and major depression, much larger than the normative U.S. prevalence rates.” The significant impact of the pandemic on special educators means more needs to be done to provide this group with mental health supports.
Cormier, C. J., McGrew, J., Ruble, L., & Fischer, M. (2021). Socially distanced teaching: The Mental Health Impact of the COVID‐19 pandemic on special education teachers. Journal of Community Psychology, 1-5. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcop.22736
The study is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences grant #R324A200232 awarded to second and third authors. Researcher Dr. John McGrew participated in the final version of this summary.
Summary by: Tanya Farrol – Tanya believes that the MARIO Framework is a personalized learning experience that develops skills and empowers learners to become an integral part of their learning journey.
- Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E., Leiter, M.P., Schaufeli, W.B., & Schwab, R.L. (1986). Maslach burnout inventory. Consulting Psychologists Press.
- Kroenke, K., & Spitzer, R. L. (2002). The PHQ-9: a new depression diagnostic and severity measure. Psychiatric annals, 32(9), 509-515.
- Spitzer, R.L., Kroenke, K., Williams, J.B., & Löwe, B. (2006) A brief measure for assessing generalized anxiety disorder: The GAD-7. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 1092-1097. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.166.10.1092
- Bernard, M.E. (2016). Teacher beliefs and stress. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 34(3), 209-224. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10942-016-0238-y
Schools can work across the intervention spectrum to promote emotional health and prevent the onset of depression, as well as intervene with students once they have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder. One essential support mechanism is building relationships between students and teachers that can support wellbeing reciprocally. —Frankie Garbutt
There has been a significant increase in numbers of students who are identified with major depressive disorder (MDD)—in Australia about 5% of students and 7.5% of students in the United States. Therefore, it is paramount that schools consider how they will support students with mental health challenges, ensuring they consider the “academic, behavioural, social and emotional implications of the disorder.” In his article, John Burns (Macquarie University, Sydney) outlines “what constitutes best practice” in relation to supporting our students with depressive disorders.
The article adopts a framework that helps in “considering how school-based intervention occurs across the four domains of mental health promotion, prevention, case identification and treatment, as well as maintenance of students with or at-risk of depression.” It sets out to guide practitioners with checklists to identify and support students in a school setting. As outlined in the article, this framework is part of an overall drive to allow students to learn about managing their own physical and mental health in a holistic approach to education.
It is argued that although prevention for a whole cohort can reduce signs of depression in students, individualized or small group settings have a higher prevention rate. Moreover, “interventions based on cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) have the strongest evidence of efficacy.” According to Burns, one central prevention strategy schools ought to implement is anti-bullying programs alongside the inclusion of parent meetings and increased playground supervision.
Before students can receive adequate professional treatment, their symptoms must be identified. Often, trained mental health professionals do not have the capacity to see all students, hence it is vital that all school staff are trained and educated in identifying the signs of depression in adolescents. “This has been best articulated within the suicide-prevention model of teachers being ‘gatekeepers’ who can identify at-risk students and then ensure these young people are linked with appropriate follow-up.” Additionally, schools can use screening systems to identify at-risk students among their cohorts.
Schools can support students by ensuring open dialogues among the parents, students, and any mental health professional working on the student’s case. This should happen alongside a carefully set-out plan for the student on how to manage their symptoms throughout the school day and where to seek support if necessary. However, the student should not attend school if they display elevated signs of suicide risk as this has to be managed externally by relevant professionals.
In regard to academic management, “best practice will require classroom teachers and school systems to make suitable adjustments and accommodations to the academic program that allow the depressed student to fully access the curriculum and demonstrate their learning during assessments.”
The article emphasizes that it does not outline how to support students who self-harm or are suicidal—both signs of depressive disorders—and professionals are advised to select further reading as recommended by the author. Finally, with teaching being such a stressful occupation, there is a correlation between teacher wellbeing and student wellbeing. “Better teacher-student relationships, facilitated by higher teacher wellbeing, becomes a key component to reducing the likelihood of student depression.”
Burns, J. R. (2021). Towards best practice in school management of students with depressive disorders. Journal of Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools, 31(2), 246-259.
Summary by: Frankie Garbutt – Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, there was a rise in sibling conflict in families where at least one child had moderate special educational needs and disabilities (SENDs). These young people with special needs were both the instigators and receivers of the conflict, and it was mainly those with severe and complex needs that were spared this conflict. —Shekufeh
Sibling Conflict and Special Needs
In one of the first articles of its kind, Toseeb (University of York, 2021) investigated the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on families with children that had special education needs. The main focus was on sibling conflict during and after the first lockdown in the United Kingdom in families where at least one child has special needs.
According to Toseeb, “at their highest level (the third month of lockdown), three out of four young people with [SENDs] were being picked on or hurt by their siblings and four out of five were picking on or hurting their siblings on purpose.” The study showed that boys were more likely to be involved in persistent sibling conflict than girls.1
In addition, those with pre-existing mental health difficulties, low self-esteem, or social difficulties are also more likely to be involved in persistent sibling conflict.2,3 This also affects the parents of young people with SENDs, “who may experience higher levels of psychological distress compared with parents of neurotypical young people,”4 thus increasing the risk of intra-familial conflict.5 Additionally, young people with SENDs may “require disproportionate time, attention, and support from parents fuelling competitive behaviour and aggression amongst siblings.”6
Social and communication difficulties may make children with special needs more prone to being picked on by siblings, as is the case for conflict with peers.7 “Neurotypical siblings of young people with SENDs may also have some social impairments, such as not being able to respond appropriately in social situations,8 which may increase the risk of escalation of sibling conflict.“
Birth Order and Family Size
First-born children in a family were more likely to be victimized by their
siblings compared with those who were born second or later. Additionally, as the number of siblings increased, so did the frequency of victimization. In addition to this, “those siblings with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were more likely to pick on or hurt their siblings compared with those without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” (Toseeb, 2021).
Young people who were minimally verbal, enrolled in non-mainstream educational placement, or had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) were less likely to be victimized by their siblings compared with those who were verbal, enrolled in a mainstream school, or those who did not have an IEP, respectively.
Children who were minimally verbal appeared to be somewhat protected from sibling conflict, both in terms of victimization and perpetration. It may be that siblings of young people with complex or severe SENDs perceive the attention directed towards their affected sibling as warranted and therefore are less likely to compete for parental resources.9
Alternatively, it may be that “siblings of those with complex or severe SENDs adopt a more parent-like approach in the face of adversity. This is in line with the family systems approach whereby if one member of the family is affected with a SEND, then other members of the family tend to adapt to accommodate.”10
Toseeb, U. (2021) Sibling conflict during COVID-19 in families with special educational needs and disabilities. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 2021.
Summary by: Shekufeh—Shekufeh believes that the MARIO Framework builds relationships that enable students to view the world in a positive light as well as empowering them to create plans that ultimately lead to their success.
- Tucker, C. J., Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A. M., & Turner, H. (2013). Prevalence and correlates of sibling victimization types. Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 37(4), pp. 213–223.
- Dantchev, S., & Wolke, D. (2019). Trouble in the nest: Antecedents of sibling bullying victimization and perpetration. Developmental Psychology, vol. 55(5), pp. 1059–1071.
- Phillips, D. A., Bowie, B. H., Wan, D. C., & Yukevich, K. W. (2016). Sibling violence and children hospitalized for serious mental and behavioral health problems. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 33, pp. 2558–2578.
- Hoffman, C. D., Sweeney, D. P., Hodge, D., Lopez-Wagner, M. C., & Looney, L. (2009). Parenting stress and closeness: Mothers of typically developing children and mothers of children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, vol. 24(3), pp. 178–187.
- Lee, S., & Ward, K. (2020). Stress and parenting during the coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.parentingincontext.org/uploads/8/1/3/1/81318622/research_brief_stress_and_parenting_during_the_coronavirus_pandemic_final.pdf
- Felson, R. B. (1983). Aggression and violence between siblings. Social Psychology Quarterly, vol. 46(4), pp. 271–285.
- Cappadocia, M. C., Weiss, J. A., & Pepler, D. (2012). Bullying experiences among children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 42(2), pp. 266–277.
- Constantino, J. N., Lajonchere, C., Lutz, M., Gray, T., Abbacchi, A., McKenna, K., … Todd, R. D. (2006). Autistic social impairment in the siblings of children with pervasive developmental disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 163(2), pp. 294–296.
- Kowal, A., Krull, J. L., Kramer, L., & Crick, N. R. (2002). Children’s perceptions of the fairness of parental preferential treatment and their socioemotional well-be Interpersonal Development, vol. 16(3), pp. 297–306.
- Turnbull, A. P., Summers, J. A., & Brotherson, M. J. (1986). Family life cycle: Theoretical and empirical implications and future directions for families with mentally retarded members. In J. J. Gallagher & P. M. Vietze (Eds.), Families of handicapped persons: Research, programs, and policy issues (pp. 445–477). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.