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Freeman, J.G., Samdal, O., Klinger, D.A., Dur, W., Griebler,R., Currie, D., & Rasmussen, M. (2009). The relationship of schools to emotional health and bullying. International Journal of Public Health, 54, S251–S259.

According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 450 million people in the world who are afflicted by some sort of mental, neurological, or behavioral problem. These problems often begin in adolescence and persist through to adulthood. Strong connections between emotional health and bullying have been found across several countries. A negative school climate has been found to be predictive of negative emotional health. On the other hand, school support may be predictive of decreased risk of poor emotional health and of decreased involvement in bullying. The purpose of the current study was to examine the extent to which school climate could predict adolescents ‘emotional health and bullying and investigate if these relationships were consistent across countries.


Over 120,000students aged 11, 13, and 15 from 26 European countries, Canada, the United States and Israel completed the 1997/98 Health Behavior in School aged Children (HBSC) survey. Nationally/regionally representative samples of approximately 1,500 students at each age group were drawn, and participants were selected using cluster sampling with school as the sampling unit. The school climate scale (with scores ranging from 6 to 30) was derived from six items, including “Our school is a nice place to be” and “I feel I belong at this school.” The school pressure scale (with scores ranging from 4 to 20) consisted of four items. A sample item was “My parents expect too much of me at school.” Academic achievement was measured with a single item. The question for academic achievement was “In your opinion, what does your class teacher(s) think about your school performance compared to your classmates?” with four possible responses “below average,” “average,” “good,” and “very good.” The peer support scale consisted of three items, and the teacher support scale consisted of four items. The scale, emotional well-being, consisted of five items where higher scores represented better emotional health. An example of emotional well-being item was “In general, how do you feel about your life at present?” The scale, psychosomatic symptoms, was derived from eight items where higher scores were associated with poorer outcomes. There was also an item to measure bullying; the item asked how often the student had engaged in bullying as a victim.


The students in the low climate, high pressure atmosphere reported the most negative experiences of school and significantly lower academic achievement. They also reported slightly
lower levels of emotional well-being, more psychosomatic symptoms, and more bullying. The students in the medium climate, low pressure atmosphere indicated slightly better emotional health in terms of increased emotional well-being and fewer psychosomatic symptoms. They also reported fewer incidents of bullying. France and Canadian schools had a medium climate, low pressure environment, whereas the United States had a low climate, high pressure atmosphere.


Students in the cluster having the most positive relationships to school outcomes, including academic achievement, teacher and peer support, also had the most positive emotional health and the lowest incidence of bullying. Similarly, those in the poorest cluster in terms of school also had the poorest outcomes in terms of emotional health and bullying. This shows that schools may have a small role in supporting children’s emotional well-being and ameliorating the presence of bullying.