Educational stress among Chinese adolescents : measurement, risk factors and associations with mental health

Sun, Jiandong (2012) Educational stress among Chinese adolescents : measurement, risk factors and associations with mental health. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.

Jiandong Sun Thesis (PDF 886kB)
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Academic pressure among adolescents is a major risk factor for poor mental health and suicide and other harmful behaviours. While this is a worldwide phenomenon, it appears to be especially pronounced in China and other East Asian countries. Despite a growing body of research into adolescent mental health in recent years, the multiple constructs within the ‘educational stress’ phenomenon have not been clearly articulated in Chinese contexts. Further, the individual, family, school and peer influencing factors for educational stress and its associations with adolescent mental health are not well understood. An in-depth investigation may provide important information for the ongoing educational reform in Mainland China with a special focus on students’ mental health and wellbeing.

The primary goal of this study was to examine the relative contribution of educational stress to poor mental health, in comparison to other well-known individual, family, school and peer factors. Another important task was to identify significant risk factors for educational stress. In addition, due to the lack of a culturally suitable instrument for educational stress in this population, a new tool – the Educational Stress Scale for Adolescents (ESSA) was initially developed in this study and tested for reliability and validity.

A self-administered questionnaire was used to collect information from convenient samples of secondary school students in Shandong, China. The pilot survey was conducted with 347 students (grades 8 and 11) to test the psychometric properties of the ESSA and other scales or questions in the questionnaire. Based on factor analysis and reliability and validity testing, the 16-item scale (the ESSA) with five factors showed adequate to good internal consistency, 2-week test-retest reliability, and satisfactory concurrent and predictive validity. Its factor structure was further demonstrated in the main survey with a confirmatory factor analysis illustrating a good fit of the proposed model based on a confirmatory factor analysis.

The reliabilities of other scales and questions were also adequate to be used in this study.

The main survey was subsequently conducted with a sample of 1627 secondary school (grades 7-12) students to examine the influencing factors of educational stress and its associations with mental health outcomes, including depression, happiness and suicidal behaviours. A wide range of individual, family, school and peer factors were found to have a significant association with the total ESSA and subscale scores. Most of the strong factors for academic stress were school or study-related, including rural school location, low school connectedness, perceived poor academic grades and frequent emotional conflicts with teachers and peers.

Unexpectedly, family and parental factors, such as parental bonding, family connectedness and conflicts with parents were found to have little or no association with educational stress.

Educational stress was the most predictive variable for depression, but was not strongly associated with happiness. It had a strong association with suicide ideation but not with suicide attempts. Among five subscales of the ESSA, ‘Study despondency’ score had the strongest associations with these mental health measures.

Surprising, two subscales, ‘Self-expectation’ and ‘Worry about grades’ showed a protective effect on suicidal behaviours. An additional analysis revealed that although academic pressure was the most commonly reported reason for suicidal thinking, the occurrence of problems in peer relationships such as peer teasing and bullying, and romantic problems had a much stronger relationship with actual attempts. This study provides some insights into the nature and health implications of educational stress among Chinese adolescents. Findings in this study suggest that interventions on educational stress should focus on school environment and academic factors. Intervention programs focused on educational stress may have a high impact on the prevalence of common mental disorders such as depression. Efforts to increase perceived happiness however should cover a wider range of individual, family and school factors. The importance of healthy peer relationships should be adequately emphasised in suicide prevention. In addition, the newly developed scale (the ESSA) demonstrates sound psychometric properties and is expected to be used in future research into academic-related stress among secondary school adolescents.

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ID Code: 53372
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Dunne, Michael, Fitzgerald, Gerard, & Hou, Xiang-Yu
Keywords: academic stress, mental health, depression, suicidal behaviour, adolescents, China,
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Public Health & Social Work
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 28 Aug 2012 23:53
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015 01:51

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