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Depression Doubles the Odds of Dropping Out of College

posted 01:10 PM EST, Thu July 09, 2009
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Depression Doubles the Odds of Dropping Out of College © Photo Credit: Whatmegsaid

It's not surprising that students diagnosed with clinical depression fare worse at school than students who don’t battle mental illness, but it turns out that people with a certain type of depression can actually perform quite well, while people with another subtype are far more likely to quit school all together.

Michigan University professor, Daniel Eisenberg, says that students with depression are twice as likely to drop out of college, but that when you look closely at the symptoms experienced by students who fare more poorly in school - it becomes clear that the type of depression experienced makes a difference.

Eisenberg explains that 2 of the core symptoms of depression are:

  • Sadness, hopelessness etc. (depressed mood)
  • A loss of interest in previously enjoyable or worthwhile activities
Not all clinically depressed people will experience both of these symptoms.

Eisenberg took a random sample of 2800 Michigan University undergraduate students in 2005 and collected information from each subject on mental health topics; and then followed up with each student 2 years later.

He found that while a diagnosis of depression doubled the risk of an early college exit, that students who complained of depressed mood only did far better academically that students who admitted also (or only) to a loss of interest in worthwhile or pleasurable activities.

People can perform while feeling down, but people don't seem to perform when they can't muster any interest to do so.

Eisenberg explains that many people become functionally depressed, just as people become functional alcoholics. They suffer through depressive symptoms but maintain high performance at school or on the job. This can be problematic and lead to under diagnosis of the disorder, as Eisenberg explains, "Lots of students who have significant depression on some dimension are performing just fine, but may be at risk and go unnoticed because there is no noticeable drop in functioning."

Eisenberg hopes that his research will spark a larger controlled trial examining depression and academic performance.

The research results can be read in their entirety in the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy

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