The effect of depression on academic performance by @emma_rachels

During a person’s lifetime they will experience a variety of life events, both positive and negative. Negative life events, such as a loved one dying, tend to be researched more extensively than positive life events due to the damaging effects it could have on a person’s life. Negative life events can induce a great amount of emotion and a person’s reaction to these life events determines how they process the event and overcome it. When this processing is detrimental, emotional deficits can occur such as depression.

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Depression is a mood disorder that is most commonly associated with low mood but there is a wide range of other symptoms (Hysenbegasi, Hass, & Rowland, 2005).  More general symptoms include becoming easily distracted and working memory deficits; a more specific symptom is self-handicapping in academia (Frojd et al., 2008). Mental health is becoming more prevalent with 10% of adolescents affected by a mental health disorder in their lifetime in 2004; this continued to increase 19% for those suffering from clinical depression in 2007, (Department of Health, 2012). A study by DeRoma, Leach and Leverett (2009) found that 53% of students suffered from depression of varying severity in comparison to 10% in the public, (Department of Health, 2012). The finding that students are experiencing particularly high prevalence of depression is cause for concern and therefore research is needed to examine the effects it is having on their lives.

Due to the high prevalence of depression in students, DeRoma et al., (2009), it is important to understand how it impairs everyday life to create interventions to help sufferers live without impairment. Depression can appear gradually or suddenly with varying reasons including life events, academic pressures, and lack of social support, Addis, Truax & Jacobson (1995). The aforementioned symptoms can have damaging effects in many aspects of sufferer’s lives from social engagements to academic performance.

Regardless of the severity of deficits, personally tailored interventions collated with past success could be a crucial stepping stone to benefit individuals with academic related depression. This research will focus on academic performance with regard to the deficits that depression presents, which type of depression is exhibited and how interventions can subsequently be created from this research.

Depression has been found to correlate strongly with decreased academic performance but only in moderate depression, in severe depression perfectionism is a buffer to damaging effects, (DeRoma et al., 2009). They found that moderate depression threatens self-esteem, therefore decreasing belief and leads to self-handicapping in certain tasks thus negatively affecting academic potential.

This self-defeating perspective owes to a lack of constructively using negative performance to better overall performance in these individuals. A limitation of DeRoma et al., (2009) was the measure of academic performance through self reported Grade Point Average (GPA). GPA is a snapshot evaluation of how an individual has performed in one area of academia, thus it is not representative of their overall performance. Furthermore, a snapshot GPA can be influenced by many biases such as content, interest or daily mood. For further research to determine whether depression negatively affects academic performance a more specific measure must be used.

Decreased academic performance in depressed patients has also been found with other measures of academic performance by Hysenbegasi et al., (2005) as they used both objective and subjective measures; GPA and thoughts about academic performance. It was found that subjective measures correlated higher with decreased academic performance than objective measures, even though they were both significant. With more accurate reports from subjective measures, understanding an individual’s own perspective on the reasons behind their depression will help explain the difference in effects on academic performance from different individuals. Therefore, the cause of depression may have a bearing on which everyday processes affect academic performance so must be explored further.

In academia there are many traits that would make one the ideal candidate to do well. Just a few of these include high conscientiousness, Vianello, Robusto and Anselmi (2010), interest, Kearns and Fuchs (2013), and paying attention, Fry and Hale (1996), to ensure remembering the relevant information. Fry and Hale (1996) control ability in analysis in predictors for academic performance, working memory is the next important contributor to academic performance. Researchers (Arsenio & Loria, 2014) looked into why individuals with depression are affected so badly in academia and the role of working memory. They discovered that individuals with depression display “disengaged coping” which becomes detrimental to academic performance.

However, these researchers did not explain what “disengaged coping” meant, although previous research may offer more insight in this recent finding. Gohier et al., (2009) found that individuals with depression were unable to inhibit neutral information from accessing their working memory, therefore they could not differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information. These researchers proposed that impaired working memory processes predicted detrimental coping and attentional deficits. As working memory has been highly correlated in academia, it should be used to measure deficits in depressed patients and the subsequent effect on academic performance.

Image source: By Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig on Flickr under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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