What's the Link Between Depression and Academic Performance?

There's a close link between depression and academic performance. A student's emotions can clearly influence the environments that they live and work in.
What's the Link Between Depression and Academic Performance?

Last update: 04 September, 2020

Letting apathy and sadness into our lives can have serious consequences on the rest of our lives, thus affecting several of the planes of our life. In today’s article, we’ll be looking at depression and academic performance, and, more specifically, we’ll look at, and try to understand, the relationship between these two factors.

The truth is that all of us, at some time or another, have seen how easy it is to sink into some type of depression. This common occurrence is usually accompanied by a certain social apathy, with fewer and fewer reasons to be motivated. This is the framework we’re going to analyze as we look at the relationship between depression and academic performance.

Academic performance

Academic performance is a measure that we can express in an absolute or relative way. However, the assessment of this performance won’t only depend on the person who carries out this performance.

One of the factors that’s intrinsically related to the individual is intelligence. Now, when we speak about intelligence, we’re not only referring to intellectual intelligence. Psychologists such as Howard Gardner have written about the existence of multiple intelligences. For example naturalist, intellectual, interpersonal, and emotional, among others.

Of course, academic performance will express the performance of a person in a very specific area: their academic studies. Some places evaluate this academic performance by taking into account exam results, others do a gradual assessment, and others include a student’s behavior in the evaluation.

Each place will establish its own criteria in order to determine a student’s general performance. However, we can also evaluate the teacher’s work, coordination, and guidance, among other things.

Depression and academic performance.


Depression has been precisely defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Major depression is when five or more of the following symptoms are present, for at least two weeks, causing a significant detriment to the person’s life. At least one of the symptoms must be a depressive state of mind or a continuous lack of interest or pleasure. Let’s have a look at the symptoms:

  • A depressed state of mind, almost every day.
  • A significant decrease in interest or pleasure in most activities, almost every day.
  • Weight loss, without having gone on a diet, or weight gain. Additionally, there will be an increase or decrease in appetite most of the time.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia, nearly every day.
  • Feeling tired or a loss of energy.
  • Psychomotor agitation or delay.
  • Feelings of helplessness or unfounded or excessive guilt (which may be delusional), nearly every day.
  • Recurring thoughts of death (not just a fear of death), recurring thoughts of suicide without a specific plan, suicide attempts, or a plan to commit suicide.
  • A decreased ability to concentrate, or to make decisions, almost every day.

Subjective information

However, whether or not a person is suffering from major depression could be determined by subjective information or observation by others. In addition, their symptoms will cause clinically significant distress and interfere with important areas of functioning.

This condition won’t be attributable to the intake of any substance, nor is the person’s condition best explained by a schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, delusional disorder, or any other specified or unspecified disorder linked to schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. In addition to this, they must have never had a manic or hypomanic episode.

Other depression-related disorders share some of the symptoms listed above. In this article, however, we’re focusing on major depressive disorder.

Major depression has a profound impact on those who suffer from it, and this will have a direct impact on academic performance. This impact will vary, depending on different circumstances. Let’s take a look at the link:

  • Depression and academic environment. Major depression causes people to lose interest in many of the daily activities they used to engage in. This idea also affects the academic field.
  • From the influence of academic performance to depression. Sometimes, perceived academic performance (or lack of it) can be a risk factor and lead to major depression.
  • Influence of major depression on academic performance. Depression can affect concentration, decision-making, and attention. It can cause loss of interest, frustration, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, lack of motivation, and low frustration tolerance, etc. As a result, this will affect academic performance, as the person won’t be showing their full potential.

However, we should clarify that academic performance can be affected by many other factors, not only depression. We can’t attribute poor academic performance exclusively to depression; there may be other factors present, and others may come later.

A two-way relationship

Thus, when we talk about the link between depression and academic performance, we’re referring to a two-way relationship. Depression can be a drag on academic performance. And a person’s perception of their academic performance can lead to major depression, with or without any additional factors.

Even if this relationship isn’t always there, the possibility still exists. In fact, there’s a lot of research on the association between depression and poor academic performance. For example, Franco Mejia, Gutiérrez Agudelo, and Perea, in their article for the journal Psicogente, observed a statistically significant relationship between depression and under-average or poor academic performance in Administration students at a Public University of Santa Marta, Colombia.

A sad student.

How do you deal with depression in the academic environment?

In order to deal with depression in an appropriate way, many people need to be involved:

  • Institution. The institution itself must look after the well-being of its students. In this sense, many academic institutions, with the creation of attractive dynamics, have the opportunity to end up becoming a valuable protective factor against depression.
  • Family. The family, in most cases, is closest to the person. It also has the most influence. Its opinions and guidelines are the greatest influence for the person who’s going through depression. Families can make the person worsen, or they can be invaluable in helping the person come out of it.
  • Subject. If a person knows themselves well enough, they may notice the changes that occur on a cognitive, behavioral, and emotional level. In these cases, they can seek help, either from people close to them or from professional therapists.
  • Healthcare organizations. Health agencies must be prepared to deal with this type of disorder in addition to them promoting health and preventing disease.


If you realize that you have some or all of the above symptoms, and can see that this is affecting both your academic performance and other areas of your life, then seek help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist.

We’re often tempted to face more challenges than we can handle and to take on more responsibilities than we can respond to. This can be a contributing factor in depression.

Depression isn’t typical of so-called weak or unbalanced people. It actually has nothing to do with the person, but rather what happens at a certain time and under certain circumstances.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of menta disordes (DSM-5). Estados Unidos: American Psychiatric Pub.
  • Mejía, C.F., Agudelo, S-G & Perea, E. (2011). ASociación entre depresión y bajo rendimiento académico en estudiantes universitarios. Psicogente, 14(25), 67-75.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.