Category: Child / Adolescent - Depression
Epidemiologic research consistently shows a high prevalence of mental health problems among school-age children (CDC, 2013; Costello et al., 1996; U.S. Public Health Service, 2000). In particular, the prevalence of depressive disorders in late childhood and early adolescence warrants genuine concern, as approximately 11.5% of adolescents experience a major depressive episode each year (Mojtabai et al., 2014). Research has shown that depression can have substantial impact on school functioning—adolescents with symptoms of depression are less likely to complete homework, get along with teachers, and concentrate in class (Humensky et al., 2010). Depressive symptoms also correlate with lower behavioral engagement, lower emotional engagement, and lower grades (Li & Lerner, 2011).
While benefits have been found for some school-based interventions for mental health problems, the effectiveness of these interventions remains unclear (Adelman & Taylor, 1998, 2010). Intervention impact on school functioning is also uncertain because such outcomes are so rarely measured in trials (Hoagwood et al., 2007). Recent meta-analytic evidence (Baskin et al., 2010; Hoagwood et al., 2007) suggests that the potential for mental health treatment to improve academic in addition to mental health outcomes is substantial. However, few studies have explored the relationship between depressive symptoms and academic achievement. The implications of mental health interventions having an impact on academic achievement could be important. If interventions designed to decrease mental health symptoms yield academic benefits, then policymakers may be more likely to invest in and prioritize mental health initiatives in schools.
The current study examines the effect of school-based depression interventions on academic achievement. We hypothesized that depressed 6th and 7th grade students who experienced a decrease in depressive symptoms following school-based depression interventions would show improvements in their grades and standardized test scores at post treatment. Data from this study comes from a randomized controlled trial conducted in Boston, MA testing the effectiveness of a cognitive behavioral intervention and a school counselor–led group intervention (n= 131). Preliminary analyses using change in depression scores measured by the Youth Self Report (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001) at baseline and post treatment suggest that decreases in depressive symptoms in both treatment conditions were correlated with higher standardized test scores in English Language Arts, r(95) = -.224, p r(103) = -.198, p< .05, at post treatment. These findings indicate that mental health interventions may have an impact on academic achievement in addition to mental health outcomes. Future school-based intervention trials should utilize school record data as outcome measures to confirm and expand upon the findings from this study.
Katherine Corteselli– Research Assistant, Harvard University, Somerville, Massachusetts
Akash Wasil– Student, Harvard University
Katherine Venturo-Conerly– Student, Harvard University
Gabriela Hungerford– Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University
John Weisz– Professor, Harvard University