How Depression Affects School Performance

When a teen is failing or doing poorly in school, parents may react with understandable frustration and try all sorts of strategies, from bribery to punishment, to get their teen to turn things around. When all things fail, tension rises and everyone becomes exasperated and at a loss to figure out the cause – and a cure – of the problems at school.

Depression, and not willfulness or laziness. Approximately 4% to 12% of school-aged children (depending upon their age) meet the criteria for being depressed, and since depression isn’t just experienced at home, it’s likely to affect a teen’s performance at school, too. Teenagers experiencing symptoms of depression usually have difficulty completing schoolwork and are at risk for academic underachievement and failure. Without early diagnosis and treatment, a teen is likely to have a negative cycle of depression > school failure > increased depression because of the failure.

School failure has a negative impact on a teen’s self esteem. A depressed teen is apt to have difficulty working to his academic and intellectual capability. He seldom completes his homework, and his test grades are likely to go down because he is tired and has trouble concentrating. To complicate matters, his teachers nay not recognize the symptoms of depression.

School may also be s source of stress for your teen. For a depressed teen, school may be the primary situation in which substantial demands are placed on her. Significant social stress might result if your teen has difficulty fitting in with his peer group.

Depression is likely to affect your teen in the following areas in school:

  • Ability to focus and pay attention. The depressed teen is often preoccupied with negative thoughts and feelings and finds it hard to put his full attention on schoolwork. Problems with concentration at school are one of the major complaints for teens experiencing depression. A depressed teen can improve his ability to sustain attention if he gets a good night’s sleep and feels rested.
  • Completing class work. When a teen is depressed, he has little energy to apply to activities that he perceives as being stressful or of low interest. A depressed teen may withdraw from typical activities and become resistant to teacher requests to participate in classroom activities. In this situation, it is good that the teachers can provide daily feedback to parents regarding a teen’s completion of assignments. It works better if this is used in a positive instead of a negative way, so that it doesn’t add undue pressure to the teen’s stress level. if he has a bad day, you can ignore it and try to focus on the next day being a better one.
  • Completing homework. Teenagers who are depressed often have great difficulty finishing their homework because they lack focus, energy and motivation. Most teenagers, of course, prefer to have no homework, but they do it because they know they have to. They’re also aware that if they don’t get it done, they may pay a price in the future. The depressed teen is stuck in an unpleasant here and now. He’s not thinking about the future, and when he does, it’s without much hope or interest. You might create a behavior plan to set up rewards for good homework completion. If homework continues to be a problem, you can try to enroll your teen in an after school homework program or suggest finding a peer study buddy.
  • Getting to school. Many depressed teens have difficulty getting up in the morning and going to school. Because they are tired and have a hard time dealing with stressful events, they may try to avoid school. You can help by encouraging your teen to develop good routines for going to bed and waking up. The less your teen has to think about what he has to do in the morning or at night, the better. The process should become automatic, so that it goes smoothly.
  • Peer Relations. Depressed teens often have difficulties that lead to social isolation. It’s another depression cycle. A teen may withdraw and isolate him from friends and classmates, leading to loneliness, which may perpetuate the depression. Having friends and social support system can be of great help to a teen dealing with depression. You should encourage your teen to attend after-school activities that teach a mix of social and academic skills, through activities such as non-competitive sports, special interest clubs or skills enhancement programs.