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Study of Baltimore youth ties academic struggles, depression

A new study of students in Baltimore concludes that black first-graders -- especially girls -- who are already struggling academically are at a higher risk of experiencing depression by middle school.

Psychologists examined data for 474 African-American boys and girls in nine Baltimore public schools. The students were assessed in first, sixth and seventh grades.

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The study's findings are in the July issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association. According to the association, this is the first time psychologists have examined the link between academic performance and depression among African-American children living in an urban setting.

The study showed that "girls tend to internalize academic problems more than boys," according to Keith Herman, the study's lead author. "It is critical for counselors and psychologists who are working with underachieving African-American youth to find ways to highlight their nonacademic skills, such as social, music or art abilities, and work with their parents and teachers to do the same. This may help improve their present and future emotional well-being."

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For more on the study's methodology and findings, keep reading.

From an American Psychological Association news release:

"The authors examined the students' performance on a basic skills test administered in first grade to determine how well the students were doing in reading and mathematics. The first-graders were also asked how frequently they felt sad, anxious or upset. The authors compared these findings with the students' self-reports of depressive symptoms after they had entered seventh grade. The authors noted that prior research found that depressive symptoms in children and adolescents predicted the likelihood of using mental health services, of contemplating suicide, and of being diagnosed with depression later in life.

"The authors found that the students who performed below average on the basic skills test in first grade were more likely to experience depressive symptoms by the time they had entered seventh grade, while controlling for conduct, attention and social problems.

"The authors also looked at data collected in sixth grade, which measured how much control the students felt they had over their academic, social and behavioral skills. Using this information, the researchers determined that first-graders who were struggling in school were most likely to believe that they had less influence over important outcomes in their life. These beliefs, in turn, served as risk factors for depressive symptoms. The negative effects of low academic skills on future self-beliefs were roughly twice as strong for girls as for boys."

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