Study: Mental health, addiction programs can improve lives of high school dropouts

Posted June 2

School lockers

Researchers at Duke University have new, concrete evidence that dropping out of high school leads to joblessness, hardship and incarceration. But the same study also reveals ways to help dropouts have more positive outcomes.

Duke researchers analyzed a data set that followed almost 600 children from the time they entered kindergarten through age 27. What they found out about the link between dropping out of school and hardship is not necessarily surprising, said study author and Duke policy professor Jennifer Lansford.

"Individuals who had dropped out of high school were nearly four times more likely to be receiving government assistance, or twice as likely to have been fired, or more than three times more likely to have been arrested before the age of 18," Lansford said.

But the study also found that certain experiences exacerbated hardship for dropouts, like being rejected by other students in elementary school, or getting pregnant in high school. On the other hand, treatment for drug or mental health issues tended to mitigate negative outcomes for dropouts.

Lansford said the study reveals the value of giving young people who have left school access to mental health services.

"I think that these findings would suggest that it’s important not to just give up on them but to try to offer support services that might be able to alter the otherwise negative trajectories that result from dropping out of school," Lansford said.

In addition, Lansford said comprehensive sex education and access to birth control in high school, and reducing bullying in elementary school could not only improve outcomes for students who drop out, but even prevent them from leaving school in the first place.

North Carolina’s high school dropout rate has fallen significantly over the last decade, but ticked up slightly last year – the first time since 2006.

The study was published in the June edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health. It was funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health.

This report first appeared on WUNC/North Carolina Public Radio as part of its education coverage. Jess Clark is the 2015-16 Fletcher Fellow focused on education policy reporting. The Fletcher Fellowship is a partnership between WUNC and UNC’s School of Media and Journalism funded in part by the Fletcher Foundation. Articles produced by the Fletcher Fellow are considered to be "open content” that others can republish with permission.


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