Purpose: Few prior studies have examined change in emotional health of high school students in a rural context. Considering the multifaceted nature of emotional health, this research aims to identify the patterns and explore change and stability of the emotional health of rural Pennsylvania youth. It also investigates the influence of family, peers, school, and the community environment on rural adolescents' emotional health.
Methods: Using panel data from the Rural Youth Education Project, we employed latent transition analysis to examine changes in patterns of rural students' self-reported emotional health from 9th grade to 11th grade (N = 1,294).
Findings: Four distinct emotional health subgroups for rural adolescents were identified. Over half of the youth in the sample felt emotionally well, or positive, in both 9th and 11th grades. Roughly 60% of rural youth remained in the same emotional health category from 9th to 11th grade, but a substantial minority experienced change in emotional health. One-fifth reported lower emotional health status in 11th grade, and one-fifth indicated more positive emotions in 11th than in 9th grade. We found strong evidence of family, school, community, and peer influences on the emotional health of rural youth in 9th grade.
Conclusions: The results suggest that while a large share of rural youth exhibit positive emotional health and remain positive across their high school years, a substantial share of rural youth experience changing emotional health. The study underscores the important role that family, peers, school, and the community environment play for rural youth's emotional health over time.
Keywords: emotional health; latent transition analysis; positive youth development; rural youth.
© 2018 National Rural Health Association.