The Relationship Between Depression and Academic Performance

A piece by: Caroline Summers

Caroline Summers
Nov 17, 2016 · 2 min read

Depression can be a hindrance to every aspect of a person’s life, especially one’s academic performance. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2012), clinical depression is defined as a mood disorder caused by many factors, including genetic predisposition, personality, stress, and brain chemistry. A few common symptoms of depression are changes in appetite and weight, sleep problems, loss of interest, withdrawal from family and friends, irritability, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and suicidal thoughts.

As mental health issues among university students increase, more research is being conducted to determine how dealing with poor mental health impacts academic performance. Hysenbegasi, Hass, and Rowland (2005) conducted a study to determine the relationship between depression and academic performance. In this study, there were two groups: the control group, and students with depression. The control group had no diagnosis of depression, and no self-report of at least three symptoms of depression while the students with depression were diagnosed at the on-campus Health Centre. For the purpose of this study, academic performance was measured by a student’s GPA. Students completed a survey that asked them about their employment status, and whether their mental health impacted their ability to attend class, study, and complete assignments. The results of this study indicated that a diagnosis of depression was associated with a lower GPA of 0.49, which is equivalent to half a letter grade. In addition, depressed students reported missing more class, tests and assignments compared to the control group. They also dropped more courses and missed more social events.

The results of this study have important implications that highlight the need for better quality mental health support for university students. However, this study should be taken with a grain of salt. The data was collected from only one university, therefore the data might not be representative of the larger population. More research needs to be done in order to conclude that depression causes poor academic performance because both are interconnected and influence each other. It would also be important to identify any gender and race differences that may exist.

Nevertheless, it’s evident that there needs to be an improvement in mental services and resources for university students. Easily accessible mental health services and educating students about the benefits of seeking interventions may encourage students to seek help if they need it.


Depression. (2012). Retrieved from

Hysenbegasi, A., Hass, S. L., & Rowland, C. R. (2005). The impact of depression on the academic productivity of university students. Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 8(3), 145.

COPE McMaster

A Student Mental Health Initiative

Thanks to Supriya

Caroline Summers

Written by

Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University

COPE McMaster

A Student Mental Health Initiative

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