May 9, 2019

Abuse, Depression, and School Achievement: Surprising Trends Seen in Students of Color


New research finds significant effects of depression on grades and unexpected resilience in African American and Latino students with a history of abuse.

THE BOTTOM LINE  |  The unexpected finding that students of color who experienced a history of abuse, but no history of depression, had higher grades than their peers with no history of abuse or depression may suggest an unknown factor in this group’s resilience. Another possibility is that there is an integral part of their support system protecting against depression and promoting academic achievement.

Determining what these missing pieces are in resilience or support systems could lead to a better understanding of why certain youth are able to excel despite adversity. These findings also provide insight into how educators and healthcare providers can support adolescents facing both depression and abuse. Screening and intervention with students showing poorer academic achievement may be needed.

CONTEXT  |  Depression and abuse have negative consequences on the overall health of adolescents and young adults. However, research examining the impact of childhood abuse on academic achievement has been scarce — particularly regarding students of color. While education has been shown to improve health outcomes and serve a protective role against abuse, abuse and adversity can act as barriers to remaining in school and reaching higher levels of education.

STUDY OBJECTIVE  |  Assess the ways in which depression and a history of abuse interact to influence academic performance among African American and Latino adolescents and young adults.

THE DETAILS  |  The study surveyed 476 predominantly urban African American and Latino youth, ages 14 to 24 years. Participants completed a demographic questionnaire — including self-reported grades — and the Beck Depression Inventory for Primary Care Fast Screen. History of abuse was assessed using the Childhood Maltreatment Interview Schedule Short Form, a short structured questionnaire, and a face-to-face interview with a clinical provider.

FINDINGS  |  Depression — but not abuse — was found to have a significant impact on grades. However, abuse and depression did have a significant interactive effect on grades, meaning that non-depressed adolescents who reported abuse had an almost four-point higher grade score than non-depressed adolescents who did not report experiencing abuse.

PULL QUOTE  |  “It is unclear at this point as to what may be driving this finding, however; perhaps there are underlying factors shared regarding resilience in a group of adolescents and young adults of color who experienced abuse and yet are not depressed.”

Source: Nagin P, et al. (2019). Unpacking the Influence of Abuse and Depression on Grades among Urban Ethnic Minority Adolescents and Young Adults. Annals of Global Health.

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