For students with depression, their condition isn't what may cause poor grades in school, a new study published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior finds.
What hurts these students' grades more than the condition itself are the behavior problems, such as issues with attention, delinquency, and substance abuse, that depressed students may also have, said Jane D. McLeod, the study's lead author and a sociology professor and an associate dean at Indiana University.
"Certainly, there are depressed youths who have trouble in school, but it's likely because they are also using substances, engaging in delinquent activities, or have attention issues," McLeod said in a written statement.
McLeod's study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which followed thousands of American teens from their middle and high school years through early adulthood. McLeod focused on students who were in high school when Add Health began in
1994. To determine academic achievement, McLeod considered the high school GPAs of students after the first wave of Add Health in 1994 and the highest educational degrees they received through 2008-2009.
"There's a fairly sizable literature that links depression in high school to diminished academic achievement," McLeod said. "The argument we make in our study is what's really happening is that youths who are depressed also have other problems as well, and it's those other problems that are adversely affecting their achievement."
Her analysis controlled for academic aptitude. In this case, the researchers said that meant they considered whether adolescents in the study had the ability to do well in school.
"What we found is that there are adolescents—more—who have the ability to succeed, but who are not succeeding in school because of their troubling behavior-attention issues, delinquency, substance use or a combination," McLeod said. "This suggests to me that schools should reconsider the approach they take to dealing with these students. Perhaps, they should think about moving away from punitive approaches towards approaches aimed at integrating these students into the school community."