Revisiting the Link Between Depression Symptoms and High School Dropout: Timing of Exposure Matters

J Adolesc Health. 2018 Feb;62(2):205-211. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.09.024. Epub 2017 Nov 28.


Purpose: Recent reviews concluded that past depression symptoms are not independently associated with high school dropout, a conclusion that could induce schools with high dropout rates and limited resources to consider depression screening, prevention, and treatment as low-priority. Even if past symptoms are not associated with dropout, however, it is possible that recent symptoms are. The goal of this study was to examine this hypothesis.

Methods: In 12 disadvantaged high schools in Montreal (Canada), all students at least 14 years of age were first screened between 2012 and 2015 (Nscreened = 6,773). Students who dropped out of school afterward (according to school records) were then invited for interviews about their mental health in the past year. Also interviewed were matched controls with similar risk profiles but who remained in school, along with average not at-risk schoolmates (Ninterviewed = 545). Interviews were conducted by trained graduate students.

Results: Almost one dropout out of four had clinically significant depressive symptoms in the 3 months before leaving school. Adolescents with recent symptoms had an odd of dropping out more than twice as high as their peers without such symptoms (adjusted odds ratio = 2.17; 95% confidence interval = 1.14-4.12). In line with previous findings, adolescents who had recovered from earlier symptoms were not particularly at risk.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that to improve disadvantaged youths' educational outcomes, investments in comprehensive mental health services are needed in schools struggling with high dropout rates, the very places where adolescents with unmet mental health needs tend to concentrate.

Keywords: Depression symptoms; High school dropout; Late adolescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Quebec
  • Risk Factors
  • Schools*
  • Student Dropouts / psychology
  • Student Dropouts / statistics & numerical data*
  • Time Factors

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