A new longitudinal study has found that students who are frequently absent from school more often have symptoms of psychiatric disorders later on in adolescence.

The study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Florida, Boston University, the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center, the Oregon Social Learning Center, and Johns Hopkins University, of more than 17,000 youths from 1st to 12th grade found that absenteeism is linked with mental health problems.

"We've long known that students who are frequently absent from school are more likely to have symptoms of psychiatric disorders, but less clear is the reason why," says Jeffrey Wood, associate professor of educational psychology and psychiatry at UCLA, who led the study.

"These two aspects of youths' adjustment may at times exacerbate one another, leading over the course of time to more of each."

Researchers also found that mental health problems during one year also predict missing additional school days in the following year for students in middle and high school.

Between grades 2 and 8, students who already had mental health symptoms such as antisocial behavior or depression missed more school days over the course of a year than they had in the previous year and compared to their peers with no or few mental health symptoms.

They found that middle and high school students were more likely to be depressed and have antisocial problems within the year if they were chronically absent the year before.

Researchers said that 8th graders who were absent more than 20 days were more likely to have higher levels of anxiety and depression in 10th grade than were 8th graders who were absent fewer than 20 days.

"The findings can help inform the development of programs to reduce school absenteeism," said Wood.

"Helping students address mental health issues may in turn help prevent the emergence of chronic absenteeism," he said. "At the same time, working to help students who are developing a pattern of chronic absenteeism come to school more consistently may help prevent psychiatric problems."