Written by Julia Wighton, edited for online by Ashleigh Whittaker
New research shows that children who move from school to school are more likely to develop psychotic symptoms by the age of 18 than those who don’t move at all.
Lead author of the study Professor Swaran Singh said the study’s findings suggest school moves are harmful and can increase feelings of isolation and stress, even in young children.
The study found that almost 10 per cent of students who had moved school four or more times had developed at least one psychotic symptom in the past six months.
But child health professionals said there could be a number of reasons behind the psychotic symptoms, not just school moves.
Child Psychologist at Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation Jodie Nilsson said the underlying reasons behind the regular moves need to be looked at, with housing instability often the main instigator of school moves.
“It’s not so much the moving from school to school, but we would assume that it would also be the instability within the family unit that goes along with frequent school moves.”
Child Psychiatrist Doctor Geraldine Dyer acknowledges that family history plays a part in the mental health of children.
“It could be for a whole range of reasons, as I say, maybe somebody in the family is already experiencing mental illness.”
She said the occurrence of psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and confused or disturbed thoughts are not always a precursor to adult psychosis.
“Young people do experience psychotic symptoms but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to go on and develop a full blown mental illness.”
Dr Dyer said it is important to have strong peer and mental support.
“I think trying to foster the development of social networks is important.
“Families themselves would need to work at maintaining a cohesive group, so having dinner together for example is something that I usually suggest.”
Tom O’Donnell, Director of Student Services for Holy Spirit College in Cairns, said a school community is sometimes the only place a troubled student will feel a sense of belonging.
He said moving schools interrupts the social and learning flow in young children and adolescents.
“We have a young person who is moving from school to school to school, the sense of belonging, the sense of connectedness to peers and to adults, diminishes.
“It becomes easier to just to be on your own, because it gets so hard.”
He suggests parents seek assistance from school support staff, who can make the new school transition easier for the child.
“One is working at the home level, and the other is actually let the school know that there is some stress and anxiety around this move, because it might be their third or fourth or fifth.”
The study examined 4,000 18-year-olds.
Despite the findings, Nilsson said parents shouldn’t panic about the impact unavoidable moves may have on children.
“I think the big thing to realise is that not everyone that moves schools a lot develops psychosis.”