Impact of Anxiety and Depression on Student Academic Progress

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common obstacles teens and young adults face and it’s beginning to take a serious toll in the classroom.

Every year more cases of anxiety and depression are reported in children and teens. 1 in every 8 children has anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). While there are treatments for anxiety and depression, 80% of children with an anxiety disorder and 60% of children with depression are not receiving treatment.

With so many children and teens who have undiagnosed anxiety or depression, this can negatively impact their ability to learn and enjoy their time in school. When students have anxiety and depression that goes unnoticed their mental health is at risk, which can lead to social and behavioral problems, poor performance and learning, neglected hygiene, poor self care practices and low self esteem.

It can be difficult for teachers to identify anxiety and depression because these disorders often show up differently for different people, but this is why knowing the combinations of behaviors to look for is key. When anxiety and depression aren’t addressed the symptoms can worsen, creating a vicious cycle that many students are finding themselves in.

Unpredictable Behavior is Often a Sign of Anxiety or Depression

Anxiety and depression can be tricky because they can cause students to act in unpredictable ways and teachers aren’t trained to recognize these cues. For example, Mr. Lee shares a story about his student, Mark, who is typically in a great mood.

Mr. Lee recalls one day in specific.

Mark loved math and the class was going to participate in a game of math bingo, which he usually was excited about. Mark would always ask if he could pass out the pencils before the game because he liked having the chance to get out of his seat and move around. However, this particular day, Mr. Lee received a very different reaction when he asked Mark if he wanted to pass out the pencils to the class.

Mark jumped out of his seat and strewn his desk contents on the floor.

He screamed, “I hate this school!” as he ran out of the classroom.

Mr. Lee was shocked and had no idea what had gone wrong.

This is a perfect example showing why it is so important for teachers to receive training that will allow them to identify students with anxiety and depression and to be equipped to handle such situations.

Anxiety and depression are complex disorders and how they affect people depends on many variables. One minute a student could seem fine and the next they may experience and outburst or panic attack. Teachers and staff need training to be able to properly handle these unexpected occurrences.

What Causes Anxiety and Depression in Students?

Disorders like anxiety and depression are constantly being researched and new breakthroughs are being made every year.

However, doctors are still not sure if depression is passed on genetically or if it’s a mental illness that is solely psychological and physical. While scientists and doctors continue to explore this, there is evidence that suggests depression could be a combination of both nature and nurture.

On the other hand, a number of variables can lead to an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder may be prevalent if the following occur:

    • When a fear/worry about a particular event or area of life is present
    • The fear/worry is extreme compared to that experienced by peers or it is age‐inappropriate
    • The fear/worry leads to avoidance of events
    • The fear/worry causes significant distress and/or interferes significantly in daily activities

Since there are different kinds of anxiety, teachers should be trained to understand how to work effectively with each one. Common types of anxiety disorders are separation anxiety disorder, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobia, OCD, panic disorder and PTSD.

Diet is Important to Mental Health

Even factors like what you are eating can impact stress, anxiety and depression. It is extremely important for students to eat healthy meals regularly and pay attention to the ingredients in their food. Research has proven time and time again that what you eat affects your mood.

Different food can even change the chemical balance of the body. For example, Tryptophan is found in poultry, oil-rich fish, beans, baked potatoes, oats, nuts and seeds and it aids in serotonin production, which helps regulate mood.

With so many different factors leading to anxiety and depression it’s nearly impossible for teachers to identify these disorders without any prior training. The longer anxiety and depression go without treatment, the higher risk students face of a worsening condition, academic disengagement and a steep decrease in academic performance.

Impact of Anxiety and Depression on Performance

Depression and anxiety affect all areas of an individual’s well-being including sleep, diet, mental and physical health, self esteem, social interaction and academic performance.

Students who have these disorders are at risk of suffering from poor academic performance and resistance to anything school-related. This can include lack of engagement in the classroom, poor relationships with peers and teachers, and disinterest in pursuing passions and planning for the future. Their learning is also affected due to the fact that anxiety and depression can impact the working memory, which makes it challenging to retain new information and recall previously learned information.

Anxiety and depression negatively influence academic progress and encourage under-achievement. Students with a high level of anxiety score lower on IQ and achievement tests than their peers.

Inconsistent Academic Results Can be a Sign of Mental Health Issues

These disorders can also lead to inconsistent academic results. For example, a student may produce incredible work one day and barely be able to complete a single task the next. This unpredictable behavior is a prevalent sign that anxiety or depression might be present. The inconsistency of these disorders can leave students feeling frustrated and teachers confused and unsure how to approach the situation.

When students are depressed or are dealing with anxiety, they are more likely to disengage in the classroom.

This can cause them to participate in behaviors that will allow them to avoid certain events and situations. For example, missing class or going to the nurse during a quiz or presentation are a few ways students may demonstrate an anxiety disorder.

Teachers have to be prepared and know which signs to look for so that they can determine what is really going on with the student and how they can best help them.

Missing Class Can be a Sign of Anxiety

These disorders can also lead to school refusal, or school phobia. This is when a student’s anxiety or depression is so severe that they begin avoiding going to school at all. This can begin with missing class, going home early and staying home, but eventually can lead to school drop out. The Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University states that 49% of adults with anxiety reported leaving school early and 24% claimed that anxiety was the primary reason for them leaving.

The negative impact anxiety and depression have on students’ academic performance doesn’t just hurt them and their families, but it has consequences for the economy and society as a whole because they are not receiving a proper education.

Risks That Can’t be Ignored

When anxiety and depression are not identified and properly addressed there are long-term risks for students.

A student dealing with one of these disorders can experience negative effects on their attention, interpretation, concentration, memory, social interaction and physical health.

All of these factors play a key role in each student’s academic success and achievement. A child who has anxiety is more likely to focus their attention on things that they perceive to be a possible threat rather than focusing on what is important, like learning in the classroom. Individuals will also interpret everyday situations as dangerous or threatening and will often assume the worst case scenario.

When someone is experiencing anxiety or depression the majority of their mental capacity is used to create and process worrisome thoughts. This can make it extremely difficult to focus on positive thoughts and can be very exhausting for the student, which detracts from their learning abilities.

Not only do these disorders impact memory, which makes it hard for students to recall information, but they can also have negative effects on how students engage in social situations. Often, students with anxiety or depression will avoid interactions with their peers and will perceive neutral situations as threats. This, in turn, makes others uncomfortable and results in the student feeling lonely, outcast and increases anxiety and depression.

Physical symptoms like headache, fatigue, nausea and unexplained illness are also risks of untreated anxiety and depression. Children with these disorders have a higher resting heart rate, higher blood pressure, higher cortisol levels and they carry more tension in the body. These physical effects often lead to missed school days causing the child to fall behind.

Dealing with undiagnosed depression or anxiety can result in students feeling like they are constantly missing out on opportunities and this can lead to substance abuse, conduct problems, further mental health problems and even suicide.

Currently, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. Heather Morgan, a crisis line manager for Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services Suicide Prevention Center says, “We receive calls from college students daily. Since people go through different traumatic events in life; calls, texts and chats can range from relationship issues, LGBTQI questions or concerns, financial, and family issues or concerns – to name a few.”

The negative impact of anxiety and depression on student’s academic progress and overall well-being is very clear. Early anxiety disorders typically predict adult anxiety disorders making it crucial to address them early on. 85% of depressed adolescents have a history of having anxiety as a child. If these issues can be identified early on while the child is in school there is a better chance for treatment and preventative care so that the above consequences can be avoided.

Teachers and Schools Need to be Prepared

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents have the right to request appropriate accommodations related to their child’s diagnosis. Teachers and school staff need to be able to respond effectively and know which accommodations to provide for each student.

Mental health training is crucial in schools, especially for teachers, who are interacting with students on a daily basis and have many opportunities to observe behavior and reach out.

A mental health training program will prepare teachers and staff to look for discreet signs that may indicate disorders like anxiety. These signs include increased inflexibility, over-reactivity, emotional intensity, impulsivity, acting out or escaping to avoid a situation. Very often a student may go to the nurse during a quiz or get kicked out of class on purpose. Teachers may interpret the child as simply being a troublemaker or slacking off, when in reality, they are feeling intense anxiety and are trying to protect themselves.

There’s a reason anxiety and depression are referred to as invisible diseases. It can be very difficult to identify these disorders in students unless teachers have a deep understanding of them and know exactly what to look for. Training is necessary because the best way to improve these conditions are to address them as soon as possible.

Isabel, a school superintendent in California says, “In most schools mental health certification is reserved for a social worker or guidance counselor. Yet 99.9% of student contact time everyday is with a teacher, bus driver or coach. Our number one priority should be to train and equip our front line staff to deal with this crisis.”

Teachers and classroom staff are on the front lines of helping students seek proper treatment and receive an education in a safe, comfortable environment. When school staff and teachers are properly trained they are able to effectively address anxiety and depression among their students and create a better learning environment that will produce higher academic outcomes.

Student Mental Health Training and Certification

IBCCES and their board of experts, including international leaders in the educational field, Tier 1 University researchers, master educators, and clinical professionals, have designed a Student Mental Health Specialist (SMHS) training and Student Mental Health Certificate (SMHC) certification. 81% of teens with anxiety responded positively to teacher intervention and 71% of students with depression had higher test results after teacher engagement.

The purpose of the SMHS and SMHC training and certification is to prepare teachers and other school staff to provide support for students in the classroom while monitoring changes in student behavior and understanding common disorders or mental health concerns. The IBCCES program is unique because it combines training with independently verifiable certification, providing schools with the resources they need to support students and parents to enhance learning opportunities and the overall school atmosphere.

Benefits of the SMHS and SMHC program include:

  • Access to relevant strategies that can be implemented immediately
  • Best practices and latest research in anxiety and mental health disorders
  • Confidence to handle stressful situations and approach students with useful tools
  • Ability to improve learning for students and produce better academic results
  • Credibility and recognition for the staff and school
  • Ability to create a sense of security in the classroom.

Take the First Step

The SMHS and SMHC program consists of a convenient six step process that can be completed online.

There is no reason why teachers and school staff have to continue feeling unprepared and student anxiety and depression has to continue going unnoticed and unaddressed.

Learn More about the SMHS and SMHC certifications.

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