Indigenous youth reaching their potential: Making the connection between anxiety and school attendance and retention rates

Year: 2008

Author: Adermann, Jenny, Campbell, Marilyn

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Indigenous youth have been recognised as the most educationally disadvantaged group in the Australian community. One of the key factors to be addressed in overcoming this disadvantage is school attendance and retention. There are a multitude of reasons that result in Indigenous young people not attending school regularly and leaving formal education settings prematurely. However, the potential impact of social and emotional wellbeing, particularly anxiety, on Indigenous youth in regard to poor attendance and non-completion of school has not been thoroughly examined.

Anxiety is the most prevalent psychopathology for young people in the general population, with up to 18% suffering from one or more anxiety disorders. While it is easy to hypothesise that Australian Indigenous youth may suffer high levels of anxiety, there is as yet little data to support this hypothesis. Although researchers are now beginning to track the emotional wellbeing of Indigenous young people in Australia there are no prevalence data of anxiety disorders specific to this population. However, it seems likely that the incidence of anxiety disorders would be, at the very least, comparable to their non-Indigenous counterparts, especially given the many stress provoking issues, such as exposure to violence and social and economic disadvantage that are present in their lives. It has been shown that anxiety disorders, in the general population, have negative consequences for academic, social and individual outcomes, and can be a precursor to depression, suicide and substance abuse. Excessive anxiety and worry can prevent young people from participating fully in school and life opportunities. While coping with multiple life stressors many Indigenous young people are then expected to successfully engage in formal education settings that are sometimes culturally unfamiliar and stressful. This paper will discuss the proposed link between anxiety and school participation for Indigenous youth and some interventions strategies which could assist in increased school attendance and retention.