Depression has negative impact on school performance
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 50 percent of parents report at least one symptom of depression in their children and more than two-thirds say that having someone in their lives who has experienced depression gives them coping skills. However, depression may have an adverse impact on a child’s school performance, even while the condition does not appear to be a big concern among the broader community.
A study published in the Journal of Investigational Psychology suggests that children who have experienced depression in their school years will have lower GPAs and lower aspirations for higher education, even while the condition is less common.
“Depression affects children in terms of behavior, social interactions, ability to learn and long-term aspirations,” said lead author David Grinnell, associate professor of psychology at Brown University. “We know that children who have had this experience are less likely to feel engaged in school and less able to achieve college or career goals that they may have had in childhood.”
Depression often runs in families, but children without depression have very limited interest in school. To better understand the extent to which depressive symptoms affect school performance, Grinnell’s team of researchers asked 379 depressed eighth-graders about their feelings of school engagement, confidence and their intention to continue in higher education. Their results demonstrated that despite the relatively common nature of childhood depression, many kids with mental health problems may not be being accurately assessed or treated.
Each session asked a series of questions that measured depression symptoms, general feeling of depression, school engagement, life goals and aspiration.
In spite of the prevalence of depression, students with depressive symptoms reported having very low levels of feeling engaged in school. Among students with low depressive symptoms, only one in ten reported being engaged in school activities and having the highest aspirations for postsecondary education.
Higher levels of engagement and aspiration in school may be due to teachers and parents working hard to help children identify their strengths and make plans to pursue academic goals.
“Despite the large prevalence of depression, school counselors are often unaware of how to help young people with depression,” said co-author Tessa Orr, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Brown. “We believe that understanding the effects of depression can help inform educators about the effects of school support and strategies for identifying these children.”
Depression is not the only common mental health concern that can negatively impact school performance. Poor self-esteem is a common issue among children who also have anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness or helplessness. Nearly half of depressed students also experience loneliness, despite the fact that teachers and parents may see depression as a problem that requires additional attention.
Only about a quarter of depressed students have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder such as anxiety or major depression. An important take-home message from this study, according to Grinnell, is that improved treatment options for depression could have a profound impact on young people’s lives and school performance.
“This is a pretty big study with a lot of interest and exposure in the community. And since we are based at Brown, we were able to investigate something that reflects what is going on around the nation,” Grinnell said. “But it’s not surprising that the data show that people with depression are less motivated to do well in school, so school counselors will have a better understanding of how to help them and their schools.”