Given how much of their lives children spend in school, it stands to reason that good teacher-student relationships could make a difference in children’s mental health. So a group of researchers in Belgium decided to ask: is there a link between teacher involvement and children’s subsequent depressive symptoms, and if so, how does it work?
To shed light on the relationship between teacher and involvement and children’s depressive symptoms, the researchers surveyed 570 children and 30 teachers from a total of 15 elementary schools. Then they analyzed how teacher-student relationships correlated with changes in depressive symptoms over time.
They found that in both grade 2 and grade 3, students whose teachers were more involved with them later had fewer symptoms of depression. This pattern suggests not just that there’s a correlation between teacher involvement and depressive symptoms, but that more involved teachers may actually play a role in improving students’ mental health.
Interestingly, the correlation seems to work in the other direction as well, although not quite as strongly. Specifically, the study found that when children had more depressive symptoms, their teachers tended to subsequently become less involved. This pattern only held true for grade 3 students.
This second finding raises the possibility that teacher involvement and childhood depression could play out in self-reinforcing cycles: when children are have more depressive symptoms, their teachers become less involved, and when their teachers become less involved, the children develop more depressive symptoms.
One way to break this cycle might be to spread awareness among educators about the role they can play in giving students’ mental health a boost. If teachers and schools have the resources for engaging with students who are experiencing depression, that might make a real difference. Ultimately, it might lay the groundwork for a virtuous cycle of more involved teachers and happier students.