The Link Between Academic Struggles and Depression

Academic Struggles and Depression

The Link Between Academic Struggles and Depression

The link between academic struggles and depression can start as early as elementary school.

A new study suggests that children who are doing well in classrooms are more popular and emotionally secure than their peers who are having trouble academically. But not for the reasons we typically expect.

Child DepressionA research team from the University of Missouri studied 380 elementary school children and their teachers to examine how early academic difficulties can lead to future depressive symptoms. Teachers in first and second grade rated how well-liked a student seemed to be by their peers. The study results showed that academic problems in first grade led to lower levels of likeability in second grade, which then predicted depression in third grade.

A lot of research before this study has shown that children who struggle in elementary school are more likely to experience feelings of frustration and worthlessness, which can put them at greater risk for depression. But, this research highlights an important link between a child’s success in class and their social life. It also directly challenges the common stereotype that academically gifted children are considered less popular than their peers.

The findings confirm the significant impact academic performance can have on a student’s mental and social well-being. Parents, teachers, and students can use this knowledge to find ways to help address academic and social challenges before they have a lasting negative impact.

Adults need to be careful of any subtle messages and judgements they might be communicating to children who are experiencing troubles in class or with peers. Reinforcing the idea that a child is more valued when they are doing well at school can makes matters worse.

In addition to finding ways to identify and help children experiencing difficulties with math and reading, teachers and parents should also practice giving encouragement and positive attention to children on other areas – the things they do well.

Maybe they struggle with math, but they excel at art. If a child feels like their passions and talents are valued, they are more likely to have a positive outlook on their self-worth, which can be a powerful antidote to developing depression.


Authored by:  Dr. Kiara Moore

Reference: Keith C. Herman, Caroline G. Hodgson, Colleen L. Eddy, Daniel R. Cohen, Wendy M. Reinke, Lori Burrell, Elizabeth C. McFarlane, Anne K. Duggan. Does Child Likeability Mediate the Link Between Academic Competence and Depressive Symptoms in Early Elementary School? Child Development, 2019