Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is characterized by both anhedonia and sustained sadness, and is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States (APA, 2013). Over a one-year period, an estimated 15.7 million adults living in the United States suffered from at least one episode of MDD (Kessler et al., 2005). Similarly, an estimated 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 living in the United States were diagnosed with at least one episode of MDD (Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, 2016). Given the pervasive nature of the disorder, it should not be unexpected that depression is the most common form of emotional problems experienced by adolescents (Robles-Pina, Defrance, & Cox, 2008).
Depression has been associated with impaired ability to concentrate, loss of interest, poor initiative, psychomotor retardation, low self-esteem, and a sense of worthlessness, in addition to social withdrawal (Beck, 1967; Hammen, 1998; Kirkcaldy & Siefen, 1998; Kovacs & Goldston, 1991). As a result of depressive symptomatology in adolescents, an increase in suicidal ideations, attempts, and completions is troubling, with approximately 19% of high school students seriously considering suicide and 8% making at least one suicide attempt (Centers for Disease Control, 2003).
Decreased School Performance
Considerable research documents a robust relationship between depression and school performance, as indicated by grade point average (GPA) (Kovacs & Goldston, 1991; Reinherz, Frost, & Pakiz, 1991). Adolescent depression has significant implications for school performance, as several of the key symptoms (e.g., impaired ability to concentrate, anhedonia, psychomotor retardation, low self-esteem, social withdrawal) have been shown to significantly disrupt cognitive performance and inhibit initiative in learning (Beck, 1967; Hammen, 1998; Kirkcaldy & Siefen, 1998; Kovacs & Goldston, 1991). Academic failure and emotional distress are commonly observed in adolescents (Robles-Pina, Defrance, & Cox, 2008). Researchers have determined that both of these constructs contribute to and are consistent with the concept of learned helplessness, congruent with a depressive disorder diagnosis. Unfortunately, students who are suffering from a MDD are routinely avoided by their teachers (Morris, 1980-1; Robles-Pina, Defrance, & Cox, 2008) and victimized by their peers (Goodman et al., 2001; Robles-Pina, Defrance, & Cox, 2008), further enhancing students’ emotional distress and possibly contributing to their low academic skills (Robles-Pina, Defrance, & Cox, 2008).
In 2008, a study was conducted to investigate the associations between different levels of depression with different aspects of school performance (Frojd, Nissinen, Pelkonen, Marttunen, Koivisto, Kaltiala-Heino, 2008). N= 2266 students participated, aged from 13 and 17 years old (M = 15). The researchers utilized a modified version of the Beck Depression Inventory, R-Beck Depression Inventory (R-BDI), the Finnish modification of the 13-item version of BDI. The results of the study indicated that on 18.4% of the female participants were classified as depressed and 11.1% of the boys were classified as depressed according to the R-BDI. Furthermore, it was found that lower GPA scores were associated with higher rates of depression. These findings were consistent among both sexes. Thus, research suggests that higher levels of depression may relate to lower GPA.
Field, Diego and Sanders (2001) conducted a study examining scores on depression, parent relationships, peer relationships, positive and negative feelings, including suicidal thoughts and lifestyle variables including academic performance, exercise and drug use. Within their sample, the adolescents who scored above the clinical cutoff for depression were found to have poorer relations with parents, less optimal peer relationships, were less happy and had more frequent suicidal thoughts (Field, Diego & Sanders, 2001). Furthermore, they spent less time doing homework, exercised less and had lower grade point averages. The findings suggest that adolescents suffering from clinical levels of depression may be at increased risk for performance issues not only related to schoolwork but also social relationships, behavior and affect.
The Impact of Gender
The association between school performance and depression may not be straightforward, potentially involving other psychological mechanisms (Lehtinen, Raikkonen, Heinonen, Raitakari, & Keltikangas-Jarvinen, 2006). Moe (2015) conducted a study to examine the potential link between adolescent depression and academic achievement. 218 adolescents aged 11 through 16 completed questionnaires to assess for self-reported depressive symptoms and three factors of perceived control: self-regulated learning strategies, effort attribution and perceived competence (Moe, 2015). In addition, the study measured grade point average (GPA). Results indicated that perceived control mediated the relationship between depressive symptoms and GPA, such that when perceived control is added into the model, the relationship between depressive symptoms and GPA becomes non-significant (Moe, 2015). Additional findings from Calvete, Camara, Estevez and Villardon (2011) suggest that when examining the development of depressive symptoms, females are more likely to report disengagement in coping, and higher perceived social stress. The disengagement in coping and higher perceived social stress was related to higher scores on depression. The findings support the contention that the link between depression and GPA may not be straightforward. Thus, more research is needed in the to elucidate other factors that may moderate the relationship between GPA and depression.
Although Frojd and colleagues (2008) found no substantial differences between male and female participants on the relationship of depression and GPA, substantial mean gender differences exist in academic achievement. In general, girls receive higher grades than boys and score more highly on subject matter achievement tests, from elementary school through college (Kimball, 1989). Thus, it is unclear whether the relationship between depression and gpa will impact females differently than males. Given this discord between research results, it is imperative we further examine these relationships to bring about a clearer picture with regards to the impact depression and gender might have on grade point average.
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