Associations Explored Between Chronic Pain, Depressive Symptoms in Adolescent School Performance

Adolescents have much to distract them during their school days. A sudden awareness in the opposite sex, new independence as they gain freedom from more restrictive elementary school schedules, and pressure to do well academically and in extracurricular activities keep adolescents’ minds busy. What happens if you throw an additional major circumstance into a child’s life?

Recent research says that adolescents who struggle with chronic pain can have depressive symptoms that lead to problems with school functioning. A study done by Logan, Simons, and Kaczynski at Harvard University Medical School examined the dynamics of the challenges adolescents face when dealing with chronic pain.

The researchers studied 217 participants, who were all clinically referred adolescents. The adolescents and their parents were asked to evaluate levels of pain characteristics, symptoms of depression and school functioning. The adolescents examined were predominantly Caucasian and female. Additional information was also gathered from school records and reports from teachers.

Examples of the types of school functioning that were examined are school attendance, academic performance, self-perceived academic competence and teacher-rated school adjustment.

The researchers found that depressive symptoms were significantly associated with school functioning measures in the adolescents examined. The results indicated that higher levels of depressive symptoms correlated with a higher level of school function impairment.

An additional research model tested the participants to examine whether depressive symptoms mediated the correlation between current pain level and parent perception of the impact of pain on school functioning was also supported by the results.

The study’s results show that depressive symptoms can make a significant impact on school functioning in adolescents with chronic pain conditions. Administering relief for depressive symptoms with medication or other forms of therapy may assist adolescents with chronic pain conditions in improving their school function.

The study shows that students suffering from a chronic pain condition may benefit from an analysis of depressive symptoms. If a depression diagnosis were identified, and then treated, adolescents suffering from chronic pain would be able to eliminate one of the challenges to their level of school function.

Future studies may need to examine whether these results are gender-specific. Females may struggle at a different level with depression related to chronic pain than males.

Armed with this information, parents may be able to examine the factors influencing their child’s academic life, specifically if their child is dealing with a chronic pain condition. They may be able to seek tools to help them identify depressive symptoms and function better at school.

There is still hope.

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