ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2024, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (2): 246-263.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2024.00246

• Meta-Analysis • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The relationship between school connectedness and depression: A three-level meta-analytic review

MENG Xianxin1(), CHEN Yijing1, WANG Xinyi1, YUAN Jiajin2, YU Delin1()   

  1. 1School of Psychology, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou 350117, China
    2Sichuan Key Laboratory of Psychology and Behavior of Discipline Inspection and Supervision, Institute of Brain and Psychological Sciences, Sichuan Normal University, Chengdu 610066, China
  • Received:2023-05-05 Online:2024-02-15 Published:2023-11-23
  • Contact: MENG Xianxin, E-mail:; YU Delin, E-mail:


According to the World Health Organization, depression is a leading contributor to the global disease burden. School connectedness has been defined as the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment and is considered one of the influencing factors for depression. Many studies have discussed the association between school connectedness and depression, but the results have been mixed. Two main theoretical arguments exist regarding the association between school connectedness and depression. Social control sociometer and self-determination theories suggest a negative association between school connectedness and depression. However, the source consistency of the social support theory suggests that this association may not be linear. If sources of stress and social support are consistent, the buffering effect of social support may be ineffective. Although a growing body of research has investigated the association between school connectedness and depression empirically, research findings varied considerably across studies with r values ranging from −0.74 to 0.14, suggesting a need to synthesize the findings to obtain better insight into this association. Therefore, this study utilized a three-level meta-analysis to examine the extent to which school connectedness is associated with depression, and whether these associations differed according to the study or sample characteristics.

A systematic literature review was conducted using the Web of Science, ScienceDirect, PubMed, China National Knowledge Infrastructure, Wei Pu Date, and Wan Fang Data. Three-level meta-analyses were performed using R to synthesize the effect sizes and conduct moderator analyses. Publication bias was assessed using funnel plots, trim-and-fill analyses, and Egger regressions.

A total of 87 studies were reviewed. The results showed a significantly negative correlation between school connectedness and depression (r = -0.39). This suggests that school connectedness protects against depression. Moderator analysis revealed that the association between school connectedness and depression was moderated by the percentage of female students, mean age of participants, measurement of depression, and data characteristics. The association between school connectedness and depression was enhanced by an increase in the percentage of female students and a reduction in the mean age of participants. This suggests that compared to male students and older individuals, school connectedness has a stronger protective effect on depression in female students and younger individuals. Studies using the children’s depression inventory reported the strongest correlations between school connectedness and depression whereas studies using the orpinas modified depression scale reported the weakest correlations. Regarding data characteristics, studies using cross-sectional data produced larger correlations than those using longitudinal data. This suggests that data characteristics and the measurement of depression should be considered when assessing the association between school connectedness and depression. However, no significant moderating effects were found for the measurement of school connectedness, culture, or publication year, suggesting that the association between school connectedness and depression may be consistent across these measurements. A trim-and-fill analysis revealed an asymmetric distribution of effect sizes in the publication bias test and 55 positive effect sizes were imputed into the funnel plot to restore symmetry. After the estimated “missing” effect sizes were input into the datasets, the correlation between school connectedness and depression became smaller in magnitude but remained significant. Finally, the results of publication bias tests indicated that school connectedness may have contradicting effects on depression. Specifically, school connectedness can play a positive role in decreasing the level of depression but may also play a negative role in potentiating depression when the stress that causes depression comes from school. When school connectedness is used to prevent and intervene in depression, individual differences and school stress should be considered.

Key words: school connectedness, depression, three-level meta-analysis, social control theory, sociometer theory, self-determination theory

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