How Does Depression Affect High School Students Work Performance? Essay Example
Just as in the history of human civilisation, there were various stages of society’s development, with various epochs changing one another, so is a human personal development. In this regard, an individual personality evolves with age becoming more complex and strong to the external influences. However, in the initial stages of its development human personality and identity is the most vulnerable to the external and internal influences and might result in various disorders and certain problems. Consequently, people the problems people face during their childhood and early adulthood can have a tremendous influence on their further life and personal development.
Since previously it was considered that youth is characterised by developmental instability of one’s character and the process of its gradual shaping, the issue of depression among high school students was not considered to be a an actual fact and was paid very little attention to it. However, nowadays, the situation has changed and the issue became essential to address in the contemporary teaching practice and social awareness of the problem. In order to understand why this issue is so crucial in the contemporary education, the question of how depression affects high school students work performance is explored within this paper. In this regard, the essence of depression, its specifics for high school students and impact on studying performance are given.
What is Depression?
Initially, it was considered that depression can develop only in adults, children and youth are characterised by moodiness and psychological instability because of the stage of physiological maturation and mind adjustment to body changed. On the other hand, the recent research findings demonstrated that high school student suffer from depression as much as adults. In the US, 10-15% of children and teenagers are being depressed most of the time. In this regard, one in four of high school student has at least one occasion of massive depression, having the pick of depressing conditions, at the age of 14. 20% of adults confessed being depressed at least ones in their lives.
Depression is also widely gendered: teenage girls and women are twice more likely to get depressed. On the other hand, there is no gender difference in frequency of depression among the pre-adolescent group. Although these episodes can last for a few months and disappear untreated, some might continue and result in long-term negative impacts. Thus, in order to understand its impact, it is essential to understand what it is. National Association of School Psychologists gives the following definition:
“Depression is not a personal weakness, a character flaw, or the result of poor
parenting. It is a mental illness that affects the entire person, changing the way he or
she feels, thinks, and acts. A depressive disorder, sometimes referred to as clinical
depression, is generally defined as persistent sad or irritable mood as well as
“anhedonia,” a loss of the ability to experience pleasure in nearly all activities. It is
more than just feeling down or having a bad day, and it is different from normal,
healthy feelings of grief that usually follow a significant loss, such as a divorce, a
breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, of death of a loved one.”
This definition is essential to understanding that depression is often confused with moodiness and rebellious nature of growing up. In this regard, depression is distinguished from moodiness by a few features. First of all, depressed teenagers are characterised by the loss of appetite, sleeping disorder, quick loss of interest to any activity, activity swings, impaired concentration and decrease in one’s self-esteem. The main distinction between depressed teens and depressed adults is that, the first are more defiant and aggressive in their state of depression while the second are more apathetic, which was also one of the reasons why depression at teenagers was not a recognised phenomenon for a long time.
Since teenagers are still in the process of developing their social perception of the world and sense of duty, unlike adults, the states of depression have a direct impact on one’s performance at school, and, in fact, the problems at school become one of the symptoms of teenage depression. In other words, “symptoms can manifest themselves in school as behaviour problems, lack of attention in class, an unexplained drop in grades, cutting class, dropping out of activities, or fights with or withdrawal from friends.”
Although it may seem that these features of school performance can be explained by various other reasons, the main criteria for establishing that depression is the cause of these behaviours at school are the duration, intensity and the level of dysfunctional effects they cause. In this regard, a few instances of depression that last no longer than a week or two without major destructive consequences can be considered of little impact on one’s long-term working performance. On the other hand, depression episodes that last longer than two weeks and result in impairment of one’s school and social performance are of the greatest negative impact on student’s psychology and further development.
Another perspective to view the relationship between depression and poor academic performance is biological. In this regard, for the brain to function effectively and for the neurotransmitter to send impulses through the brain with the right speed, it requires a certain hormone to be produced in the right amount. The hormone responsible for mood changes, appetite, sleeping pattern and stress is called serotonin. The wrong amount of this hormone in the body can result in depression and various factors like stress, blood sugar and exhaustion can affect the level of this hormone in the body. Further hormonal misbalance changes the levels of other hormones creating problems in the human endocrine system. It is stated:
“Abnormalities in neurotransmission (sending and receiving of brain chemicals) have
been implicated in depression, particularly in the neurotransmitters acetylcholine,
norepinephrine, serotonin and neuropeptide. Although it is extremely difficult to
observe the workings of neurotransmitters in the brain, problems in this area have
been connected to depression through secondary means.”
Studying itself can be a stressful experience, which requires a proper night sleep, healthy diet, stimulation of concentration in order to gain a vast amount of information and process it efficiently in order to gain required knowledge. Under the normal circumstances, students can get tired of studies and their brains require rest and different type of activities in order to balance the brain and physical performance with academic activities. On the other hand, for depressed students, the process of studying becomes an even greater challenge since it requires healthy performance exactly in the areas where depressed people have problems. In other words, the symptoms of depression such as sleeping disorder, irritation, the loss of appetite, constant fatigue and physical weakness are exactly the areas that make any effort of stimulating brain activity double challenging since under such conditions brain is struggling to get its basic vital hormones to function normally not to mention trying to gain new information and process it efficiently.
Thus, the brain in depression is already struggling with conducting ordinary functions. When it is further pressed by academic tasks, the pressure increases, which in its turn stimulate further development of symptoms and deepening of the depression. In terms of academic performance, the initial light inability to focus on the first stages of the depression development is further deteriorated with anxiety and aggressiveness due to a simple inability of brain to process the given amount of information, because the brain is starving for the right level of hormones and normalisation of its functioning rather than additional studying pressure. Thus, it can be argued that the brain is switched from studying tasks to the vital necessity to compensate for the lack of serotonin. Under such conditions, no external persuasion to perform better at studying can help.
Manifestation of depression in the classroom
Since depression is quite difficult to distinguish from an ordinary misbehaviour or expression of one’s rebellious spirit, it manifestations in the classroom can also be misinterpreted. In this regard, since people are all different they also react to depression in different ways, and their behaviour in the studying environment also can be entirely different. It is very common that almost in every classroom there are at least a few depressed students. Often teachers cannot identify them and treat them in the proper manner. The depressed students are often categorised by their teachers as being lazy, not answering to the usual norms of discipline such as suspensions or encouragements.
From the student’s perspective, the mistreatment of teachers and the inability to understand the cause of their behaviour and result in further aggravation of depression. Poor classroom performance and punitive actions regarding one’s behaviour can further damage one’s self-esteem and misperception of one’s ability to remembering knowledge. In this regard, teenagers with depression are not defiant on purpose, but they have very little personal experience on how to handle such difficult psychological condition as depression. Therefore, they use the means they have when they face something unknown, which is rejection and ignoring the problem. Also students’ entire way of thinking about problem can change from finding solutions to simply giving up on them:
“They may think in non-productive ways, such as “I did poorly on a test because I am
stupid person,” rather than, “I did poorly because I did not study hard enough.” They
may think all-or-none, “I am terrible at everything,” rather than, “I am good at some
things and not as good at other things.””
In this regard, the main result of this change of thinking is not just in its acceptance of one’s low self-esteem and consequent lack of better expectations of one’s performance and applying efforts. It also triggers further deepening of one’s depression irrespective of what the cause of it in the first place was. For this reason, the relationship between student’s depression and their school performance are related and mutually deepening. In other words, while depression has a negative influence on one’s performance at school, worsening one’s grades results in further deepening of the depression and inability to get hold of it. In this regard, the problem of poor classroom performance is not because students do not want to perform better according to existing expectations, but because they simply cannot:
“In the classroom, depressed students may appear unmotivated and uncaring about
their work when, in fact, they are unable to function to their level of ability. Often,
they have difficulty with sustaining attention, effort, performance, and social
relationship. Coaxing, cajoling, punishment and reinforcement typically have little
effect on behaviour and achievement.”
In this regard, the problem is that students cannot actually understand what is happening to them and what the cause of their condition is. For this reason, while teachers are trying to appeal to student’s rational thinking and justify the necessity of changing their behaviour, depressed students think in terms of their emotions, the state of confusion and personal desire to resolve everything on their own. This inconsistency of perspectives results only further distancing and development of confrontations between students and teachers and deepening of students depression. Thus, without treatment depression can result in prolonged academic and social problems, even substance abuse, alienation, suicidal inclinations and traumatic state that will further deepen in students’ adult life.
In order to understand the complexity of the issue of depression and its negative impact on student’s performance, a certain psychological mechanism should be mentioned. As it was mentioned above, depressed students perform poorly not because they choose to do so out of defiance, but because they are in no condition to perform well. With the deepening of depression, students begin to lose their abilities to concentrate, preserve physical and intellectual energy needed to tasks’ accomplishment, which results in decrease of the number of finished academic assignments and substantial decrease in motivation to do them at all.
Gradually, the difficulty in fulfilling studying objectives, is accompanied by one reluctance to even got to school, which results in missing classes or pretending to be ill all the time in order to avoid any type of challenges. In this regard, students develop a common companion of depression, which is performance anxiety – “worry about the ability to perform on particular tasks.” In terms of academic performance, on the initial stages of performance anxiety development it might have a positive result. In this regard, students might become even more motivated to improve their performance a bit, because of the worry. On the other hand, as the condition of performance anxiety progresses the opposite effect is observed:
“As anxiety regarding performance of school tasks becomes more severe, students’
ability to adequate perform these tasks gradually declines, and even plummets as the
anxiety becomes extreme. Students in such a predicament may feel so overwhelmed by
the tasks facing them, and fears regarding their ability to perform these tasks, that
they simply cannot complete these tasks effectively.”
This condition of performance anxiety can be compared to one’s fear of public presentations, when a speaker feels nervous and uncomfortable about being in front of a big group of people, yet it has to be tripled with adding of various physiological reactions. Depressed students feel this anxiety of performance constantly, which exhausts their nervous system enormously. Except for anxiety performance, depression can cause other anxiety-related issues which can decrease’s one academic performance. In this regard, one of the related conditions is a severe general anxiety that affects one’s life in various dimensions including one’s ability to academic adjustment and performance.
It is argued that depression-related general anxiety affects schooling because even if it is not triggered by a school and study-related reasons. This is because students’ attention will concentrate on the cause of fear rather than rational thinking about how to perform a certain task successfully and use the maximum potential in academic performance. The situation can further deteriorate if depression-conditioned anxiety evolves into certain fears and phobias. Of particular relevance for the academic performance is the development of “school phobia or refusal to attend school because of severe fears about it, will experience a significant decline in his or her academic performance.” Thus, the initial destruction from task performance due to depression can further result in the development of various phobias and one’s complete inability to attend school not to mention to finish academic tasks.
Behavioural Impact on performance
Another crucial impact of depression on academic performance is due to the cause-effect relationship between students’ socialisation and causes of depression. Various studies paid attention to the inert-personal and social causes of depression which are particularly relevant for high school students. In this regard, for students, the primary source of socialising with their coevals is school and relationships with their peers are crucial for building of one’s self-esteem and functional perception of inter-personal relations. According to interpersonal psychotherapy approach, depression occurs due to the interpersonal conflict. In this regard, the problems can vary from being in love with the person that doe s to notice that, or being not popular enough to actual inter-personal rivalry and bullying and even a certain harassment.
The problem with depression caused by interpersonal relations at school is that the very environment of school becomes a trigger of depression stimulation and its further deepening. From another perspective, the initial purpose of going to school for studying becomes substituted with the purpose of social interactions. While for ordinary students, this change of purpose can be a stimulation of going to school or regular basis, for depressed students, the school environment might become associated with a nightmare of dysfunctional relationships and further worsening of one’s psychological condition. In terms of the implications of socially conditioned depression, its impact of academic performance is not even in the lack of focus or concentration of students but in their involvement in deviant behaviour against other students who might be the cause or a trigger for these actions. Due to these reasons depressed students are likely to get involved in verbal or physical fights in order to make the rest of their peers leave them alone.
Alienated or socially awkward students tend to act according to reverse psychology, if they are perceived to be too nerdy, then they decide to give up their extracurricular activity and joint some sub-culture groups in order to gain the feeling of belonging and being different from what they are perceived to be by everyone else. In such cases, the problem for students is not even in the inability to concentrate and study but rather in the desire to change their previous status of being a nerd to a colourful and unpredictable person. In this case, the reluctance to study well is a conscious decision. However, while usual depressed students are unable to perform well in studies, a socially-conditioned depressed student often chose to perform worse on purpose.
It may seem that since this type of depressed students can perform well or poor depending on a conscious decision and then their case of deteriorated studies can be easily changed. In fact, it is quite the opposite. When depressed student decide to perform worse, usually it is more difficult to convince them to return to the successful performance, because in their perception the improvement of grades would be psychologically associated with socially-impaired status among peers, and these students do not want to return to that condition. Thus, irrespective of their physical state, their poor performance was also conditioned by conscious decision to perform poorly.
From the point of a long-term perspective, while depression states can be cured and improve one’s academic performance by improving physiological condition, in the case of consciously strengthened depression, the more prolonged treatment is required, and the consequent recovery takes longer. This type of depression has the most harmful effect on student’s academic performance.
Depression and school dropout rate
Except for having a negative influence on actual grades and academic performance in high school, as it was mention depression can also force an individual to stop attending school and even result in dropout. According to the recent research, high school and college depressed students are twice likely drop out of school than their peers that do not suffer from depression. It was also found that the deterioration of grades and the dropout largely depend on the type of depression the student suffers from. In this regard, the primary distinction is made between depression as the lack of interest and satisfaction in any activity and depressed mood as dullness and conducting one’s duties with extra efforts.
In this regard, it is argued that depending on the type of depression, some students can manage to continue their academic performance, while those that lost interest in any activity are the ones that cannot fulfil their academic responsibilities and are likely to drop out. The scholars stated that:
“If you take a student at the 50th percentile of the GPA distribution and compare them
to a student with depression alone, the depressed student would be around the 37th
percentile – a 13 percent drop. However, a student with depression and anxiety
plummets to about the 23 percentile, a 50 percent drop.”
Therefore, depression is directly related with the school dropout. The likeliness of dropout also depends on the depth and the time of depression development and intensification. Another factor is the combination of depression with other psychological disorders and physiological conditions, which can only stimulate and deteriorate depression and its consequent resulting in school dropouts.
In terms of statistics, the relationship between depression and high school dropouts can be illustrated through the following data. According to the data from the US Department of Education, in the academic year 2004/2005, 45 percent of student that had depression and other emotional disorders dropped out of their high schools. In the academic year 2005/2006, while 57 percent of students with disabilities graduated from high schools, for the students with depression and psychological disorders only 43 percent graduated. The last data suggest that depression has greater negative impact on one’s academic performance than disability, mainly because depression deprives a student of motivation and the very desire to fight and achieve anything.
In terms of gender framework of dropping out, in general, the primary causes of failing school such as expulsion, suspension and dropout are more characteristic for male students than females. However, girls are more likely to develop depression conditions than boys corresponding to 22 percent and 17 percent accordingly. In this regard, depression is one of the primary causes of girls dropping out of school, while for boys it can be on the fourth or fifth place. Furthermore, the dropout results in the development and deterioration of depression in 33 percent of school-leavers, while depression is recorded to develop only in 19 percent of girls that did not drop the study. Consequently, depression is not an illness that can be considered a light issue, it requires treatment and attention. Moreover, the findings demonstrate:
“Untreated mental illness accounts for high rates of absenteeism and tardiness.
Referral to a school-based mental health centre or to counselling reduces absenteeism
by 50% and tardiness rates by 25%. More than 20% of youth ages 12-17 who were
identified as having experienced a major depressive episode in 2007 reported very
severe impairment in at least one of the four major role domains (home, school/work,
family relationship, or social life), and almost one-half of youth reported severe
impairment in at least one of those domains.”
These statistics demonstrate how severe depression is for the deterioration of one’s academic performance and consequent increase in dropout rates in high school. This statistics also suggests that many high school students have inclinations to develop depressive conditions and that they cannot fight it on their own. If depression is treated on the early stage of its development than the ruinous escalation from deterioration of academic performance to dropping out and further life failure can be prevented. If depression worsens among teenagers, it has a capacity of evolving into further antisocial and deviant behaviours.
Taking into account all mentioned above, it becomes clear since depression is directly related to school environment and affect academic performance and school graduation directly, in order to be treated successfully it has to be addressed from within the high school environment. Since depression is a complex problem that connects both emotional and behavioural problems that can originate outside school yet manifests itself in school environment, it should be treated systematically involving family and specialists together with teachers. In this regard, while external treatment may include counselling and prescription of various medications, school teachers can contribute as supportive factors strengthening the effect of the first two. Among the suitable options are the following suggestions.
First of all, it is advised for teachers to develop a functional working relationship with a depressed student, so that he/she could feel support and understanding from the teacher. In this regard, the teacher should not be scared of talking to a student and asking him about his struggles and personal problems. In this regard, the primary suggestion of counsellors is for teachers not to give up on their students.
Another essential suggestion is to apply a positive approach instated of a punitive one. As it was already mentioned, any punishment does not have a desired effect on depressed students. The use of sarcasm, punishment and negative categorising can only distance a student from the teacher and further deepen one’s frustration, deterioration of one’s self-esteem and depressive condition. It is crucial for teachers to realise that students did not choose to become depressed and deteriorate their academic performance of purpose. In other words, depressed students want to improve their condition, and counselling advisors suggest treating their condition as a limitation of their capacities for performing well:
“They want to feel better and to do well just as you want them to do well. When
depressed, they lack the personal resources to do their best work. As an analogy, we
would not expect someone with a reading disability to read at grade level. Punitive
approaches are not recommended in these cases and, instead, it is best to give extra
help and support.”
In this regard, one of the practical suggestions is to adjust assignments or accommodate tasks to students’ specific requirements. In this case, it is not suggested that academic expectations should be lowered but the technical layout and presentation of assignments can be changed to make it easier for the students to process. For instance, assignments can be broken into smaller ones, providing more time for student to concentrate and gather their thoughts together, providing assistant in time and schedule management, paring students in order to show their mutual support. In other words, the practices that are aimed to assist a student with learning disabilities can be applied to accommodate challenges that students with depression have to face.
Another crucial element of teachers’ support of depressed students is the provision of opportunities for achieving success. In this regard, teachers are advised to create a greater variety of opportunities and studying experiences where students can achieve and demonstrate their success. Teachers can assign various activities were student can show their unique abilities and express their creativity that will contribute to the realisation of each other’s uniqueness and talent. For the depressed students, this type of activities would help in the improvement of their self-worth, development of the sense of belonging to the school community and the feeling of appreciation by their peers and teachers. Applying all these suggests together with parental and counselling support can eliminate depression at its early stages and result in the improvement of students’’ academic performance.
From all mentioned above, it can be concluded that depression among high school students has a very negative influence on their academic performance. This is because except for seemingly being psychological conditions, depression has a negative psychological impact on brain function which results in sleeping disorder, irritation, lack of appetite and apathy. Physiologically, the body is struggling to return to the normal functioning, and cannot fully concentrate on processing of the new information during studies.
The primary impact of depression on studying process is psychological inability of a student to concentrate, focus on task accomplishment, development of performance anxiety and general anxiety of failure and even school phobia. Depressed students become unmotivated to study and develop anti-social and deviant forms of behaviour that discourage them from academic performance. While on the initial stages depression causes mild deterioration in academic performance, with further deepening of depression academic performance is worsened finally resulting in school dropping out. Since the depression is a complex illness and has a direct relation to schooling, it should be treated systematically involving parents, counselling and teachers. Stopped at the early stages, students can perform very well academically, but if neglected it can even ruin one’s education and life.
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 Cash, R. “When It Hurts to Be a Teenager” Principal Leadership Magazine, 4.2(October 2003). Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
 O’Donohue, W. Handbook of Adolescent Health Psychology. (New York, NY: Springer. 2013), p. 52.
 Cash “When It Hurts to Be a Teenager”, 2003.
 Schwarzer, R. The Self in Anxiety, Stress and Depression. (Leiden: Elsevier Science Publishing. 2000), p. 43.
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 Huberty “Depression: Helping Students,” p. 45.
 O’Donohue, Handbook of Adolescent, p. 67.
 Schpielberger and Sarason, Stress and Emotion, p. 95.
 Merrell. Helping Students Overcome Depression and Anxiety, p.28.
 Merrell. Helping Students Overcome Depression and Anxiety, p.28.
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 Schpielberger and Sarason, Stress and Emotion, p. 97.
 Houpt, Simple Guide to Depression, p. 71.
 Schpielberger and Sarason, Stress and Emotion, p. 99.
 Huberty, T. “Depression: Helping Students in the Classroom.” National Association of School. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
 Gourley, B. “Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Dropping Out: A Quick Stats Fact Sheet” National High School Centre at Air, July 2009. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
 Hysenbergasi et al., “The Impact of Depression,” p. 147.
 O’Donohue, Handbook of Adolescent, p. 83.
 Huberty “Depression: Helping Students,” p. 47.
 Schwarzer. The Self in Anxiety, p. 46.
 Hysenbergasi et al., “The Impact of Depression,” p. 150.
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