Depressive symptoms and academic achievement in UK adolescents: a cross-lagged analysis with genetic covariates

Jose A Lopez-Lopez*, Alex Siu Fung Kwong , E V Washbrook, Kate M Tilling, Mina Fazel, Rebecca M Pearson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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The relationship between adolescent depressive symptoms and academic achievement remains poorly understood. The aim of this study was to help clarify the nature and directionality of this association.

We used a sample of 13,599 British adolescents (main sample of N=3,809 participants). We fitted cross-lagged panel models using four repeated measures of self-reported depressive symptoms and four measures of academic achievement based on British national records between 11-18 years, separately for male and female adolescents and considering polygenic risk scores (PRS) for educational attainment and depression, alongside other child and parental covariates.

We found evidence of an overall negative association that was stronger in boys (R=-0.21, 95% CI -0.31 to -0.11) than in girls (-0.13, -0.31 to 0.05). Higher depressive symptoms were associated with lower academic achievement at a later stage up to the end of compulsory education (16 years), when the direction of the association reversed, although girls with lower achievement also appeared vulnerable to depressive symptoms at previous stages. The genetic variables derived for this study showed stronger associations for academic achievement, but the PRS for depression also showed a negative association with academic achievement in girls. Child intelligence quotient and peer victimization also showed relevant associations.

Observational design, variation around measurement times, missing data.

Depressive symptoms and academic achievement should be considered jointly when designing school-based programmes for children and adolescents, alongside gender, child ability and school experience. Including genetic information in research can help to disentangle average from time-varying effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-113
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date5 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/P00881X/1] and the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme grants 758813 (Mental Health Intergenerational Transmission [MHINT]) from the European Research Council Grant Agreements. The UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome (Grant ref: 217065/Z/19/Z) and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC. A comprehensive list of grants funding is available on the ALSPAC website ( ); This research was specifically funded by MRC (grant numbers G0701503/85179), Wellcome Trust and MRC (and 102215/Z/13/Z and 102215/2/13/2), and Wellcome Trust (WT088806). GWAS data was generated by Sample Logistics and Genotyping Facilities at Wellcome Sanger Institute and LabCorp (Laboratory Corporation of America) using support from 23andMe. The corresponding author had full access to all the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors


  • adolescence
  • depression
  • academic achievement
  • cross-lagged
  • polygenic risk scores


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