Mental Health and Academic Performance Examined

Substance use and attention problems in teens linked to lower academics

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's well established that poor mental health can contribute to poor academic performance. The question is finding out which specific conditions can hurt teens' school success.

A recent study aimed to find out. The researchers compared teens rates of several mental health concerns with their grade point average and level education.

The study found that substance use, attention problems and criminal behavior all were related to poor academics, but depression was not.

"Watch teens for signs of substance use."

The study, led by Jane D. McLeod, a professor of sociology at the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

With data from 6,315 teens at 80 high schools and 52 middle schools, the researchers looked at the rates of depression, substance use, attention problems and criminal behavior across the group. These were all self-reported by the teens using standard psychological assessments.

Then they looked at the grade point average (GPA) of all the teens and the highest educational level the teens completed. They adjusted their findings to account for differences in the teens' academic aptitude, which is a person's starting abilities.

The educational levels they looked at included the GED or other high school equivalency, a high school diploma, completed technical training, some college completed, a bachelor's degree or a higher degree.

With this information, the researchers could compare the psychological issues to the academic ones in this nationally representative sample of adolescents.

About 29 percent of the teens in the study had some kind of mental health problem. About 4 percent suffered from depression and 10 percent had attention problems.

The researchers found that criminal or other types of misbehavior were linked to lower school achievement. Likewise, substance use and attention problems were associated with lower academic success as well.

Unsurprisingly, having several of these factors going on at once predicted even lower levels of academic achievement. The strongest link existed between poor school performance and substance use.

Twenty percent of the teens were found to have more than one mental health concern.

However, depression in the teens was not linked to poor academics.

"Our results demonstrate that the social consequences of mental health problems are not the inevitable result of diminished functional ability but, rather, reflect negative social responses," the authors wrote.

For example, the researchers found that an average predicted GPA for a student with depression was 2.7, but a student with attention problems would have an expected GPA of 2.6, and one with delinquency would have a GPA of 2.58.

A student with substance use would have a GPA of 2.37. One with attention problems, delinquency and substance use issues would likely have a GPA of about 2.13.

The study was published November 29 in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. The research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. No disclosures were noted.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 28, 2012
Last Updated:
November 30, 2012