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Depression Diagnosis in Teens Linked With Declining Educational Performance

October 21, 2020

Students diagnosed with depression undergo a drop in educational performance around ages 15 and 16 years, and boys and students from deprived backgrounds may be especially vulnerable, a study shows. Researchers reported the findings online in The British Journal of Psychiatry.

The study included 1492 children and adolescents in England with depression. Their median age at diagnosis was 15 years. Using linked mental health and education data, investigators compared the educational performance of the students with that of local students without depression at 3 assessment points: school Year 2 (typically ages 6 or 7 years), Year 6 (ages 10 or 11 years), and Year 11 (ages 15 or 16 years).

Among students in the depression group, 83% met the expected attainment threshold at Year 2 and 77% at Year 6—rates similar to those of local students without depression, according to the study. 

Youth With Social Anxiety, Exposure to Maternal MDD Have Higher Depression Risk 

However, between school Years 6 and 11, educational performance declined in the depression group. Just 45% of students with depression met the expected attainment threshold at Year 11, compared with a rate of 53% among local students without depression. 

“Although this pattern was seen among multiple sociodemographic groups,” researchers reported, “gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status predict more vulnerable subgroups within this clinical population who might benefit from additional educational support or more intensive treatment.” 

Specifically, educational performance was consistently lower among boys and among students who qualified for free school meals, according to the study. Compared with white ethnic groups, black ethnic groups experienced lower attainment between Years 2 and 6, but the decrease at Year 11 was less pronounced.

—Jolynn Tumolo 


Wickersham A, Dickson H, Jones R, et al. Educational attainment trajectories among children and adolescents with depression, and the role of sociodemographic characteristics: longitudinal data-linkage study. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2020 October 8;[Epub ahead of print]. 

Loss of potential: teens diagnosed with depression show reduction in educational achievement from primary school to GCSE [press release]. London, United Kingdom: Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre; October 5, 2020.

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