By about age 16, teens diagnosed with depression have substantially lower educational attainment, a new British study finds.
Targeted educational support might be of particular benefit to teens from poor backgrounds and boys, but all children with depression can benefit from such help, the study authors suggested.
For the study, the researchers used British health and education records to identify nearly 1,500 kids under 18 years of age with depression. Typically, their depression was diagnosed around age 15. Their educational attainment was compared with a group of young people who were not depressed.
Among students with a diagnosis of depression, 83% reached expected educational attainment at ages 6 to 7, but only 45% hit more advanced thresholds in English and math by age 15 to 16. Researchers said that's much lower than the 53% who met the threshold locally and nationwide.
"Previous research has found that, in general, depression in childhood is linked to lower school performance," said researcher Alice Wickersham, a doctoral student at NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre of King's College London.
But young people who developed depression in secondary school typically showed a performance decline on the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams. The exams -- taken by most pupils at about age 15 to 16 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland -- dovetailed with the time of diagnosis for many young people.
The pattern appeared to be consistent across different genders, ethnicities and economic groups, Wickersham said in a research center news release.
"While it's important to emphasize that this won't be the case for all teenagers with depression, it does mean that many may find themselves at a disadvantage for this pivotal educational milestone," Wickersham said.
"It highlights the need to pay close attention to teenagers who are showing early signs of depression. For example, by offering them extra educational support in the lead up to their GCSEs, and working with them to develop a plan for completing their compulsory education," she added.
Researcher Dr. Johnny Downs, senior lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry at King's College London, said the findings have two key policy implications.
"It demonstrates just how powerful depression can be in reducing young people's chances at fulfilling their potential, and provides a strong justification for how mental health and educational services need to work to detect and support young people prior to critical academic milestones," he said.
The findings were published online Oct. 8 in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
For more about teens and depression, head to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
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