School of Public Health

Miranda Delawalla

A Concurrent and Longitudinal Analysis of Teacher Support, Stressful Life Events, and Depressive Symptoms in Early Adolescence

Introduction

Depression is a major public health issue globally and is associated with a variety of undesirable outcomes. This analysis examines the concurrent and prospective associations between teacher social support and depressive symptoms in middle school-aged youth and the ways that this association may depend on stressful life events and sex, as informed by the stress- buffering hypothesis and sex differences in stress and depression.

Methods

This study used three waves of data representing 6th, 7th, and 8th grade measurements for 521 adolescents in the Developmental Pathways Project cohort study. The associations were estimated using generalized estimating equations, adjusting for relevant covariates including baseline depressive symptoms in prospective associations. In addition, we assessed interactions of teacher support with stressful life events and sex.

Results

Teacher support had a statistically significant negative association with current depressive symptoms (p < 0.001) and subsequent depressive symptoms (p = 0.004). There was evidence of an interaction between stressful life events and teacher support in these associations, such that the association between higher teacher support and lower current (p < 0.001) and subsequent (p = 0.029) depressive symptom counts was diminished for adolescents with higher numbers of reported stressful life events. Sex was not a significant moderator for the association between teacher support and depressive symptoms, or for the models testing the stress-buffering hypothesis, for both the concurrent and prospective associations.

Discussion

We found concurrent and prospective associations between teacher support and depressive symptoms, both of which were moderated by stress. There was no moderation by sex. Our findings were largely consistent with the literature; inconsistencies with existing literature may be related to adjustment for baseline depressive symptoms in prospective analyses, which we explored further in a sensitivity analysis.

Conclusions

Our study indicates teacher support is associated with adolescent depressive symptoms concurrently and longitudinally. Further research is needed to elucidate the facets of teacher support that can contribute to adolescent mental health.