How Depression Affects Learning

Depression is a mental health illness. It has a number of genetic, biological and environmental causes. It contributes to a number of other mental and physical health issues including learning ability.

How Does Depression Directly Affect Learning?

Individuals with depression may be unable to complete tasks that require high-motor and cognitive skills. They may feel confused, scatterbrained, overwhelmed or easily frustrated. Even basic everyday tasks become difficult.

Depression impairs cognitive functioning. This mental health issue interferes with healthy thought processes and impacts a person’s ability to concentrate and make decisions. It changes the brain, and many people with depression find they frequently experience memory problems and have trouble remembering events or details.

Other symptoms of depression contribute to learning problems. Depression can leave some individuals feeling irritable, agitated, anxious and unable to focus. Others find they are no longer interested in hobbies, activities or learning new things.

Mood swings make it hard to pay attention, while feelings of hopelessness or low self-esteem can cause individuals to believe they shouldn’t bother or simply can’t learn new things. Depression also impacts sleep, and insomnia and hypersomnia can further impact mental health and function.

The Connection Between Depression, Your Health and Your Ability to Learn

Depression commonly co-occurs with other mental health illnesses like anxiety or substance use disorder. It can cause these issues or result from them. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains: “About 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression have an alcohol or other substance use disorder, and about 20 percent of those with an alcohol or substance use disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder.”1

These co-occurring issues, particularly drug and alcohol abuse, can have a serious effect on a person’s memory and ability to learn.

Depression and learning ability also overlap with physical health. The National Institute on Aging explains how being physically active helps improve memory.2 When a person can’t do this for physical or mental health reasons, memory may suffer. People are also more at risk for depression, and depression-related learning issues, when physical and mental health issues co-occur.

And as Mental Health America explains, “The risk of clinical depression is often higher in individuals with serious medical illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.”3 As physical health suffers, so does memory, learning ability and overall mental health.

The Connection Between Learning Disabilities and Depression

Depression can contribute to trouble learning. Learning disabilities can in turn cause or worsen depression symptoms. The stress and frustrations of living with a learning disability impact personal wellbeing. If a person does not have access to healthy coping skills, he or she may feel discouraged, angry, depressed or even worthless without realizing why.

Reasons to Treat Depression

When a person struggles with co-occurring depression symptoms and learning difficulties, he or she is at risk for any of the following:

  • Inability to find happiness resulting in a lack of interest and motivation
  • Physical and psychological fatigue
  • Aggressive and violent behavior
  • Feelings of confusion, despair and helplessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
  • Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks
  • Substance abuse, drug dependence and addiction
  • Isolation from others or relationship problems
  • Problems at work, unemployment or financial trouble

These issues impact a person’s quality of life. However depression, learning difficulties and co-occurring health issues can be treated. Getting the right help, and getting it now, makes all the difference when it comes to health, happiness and overall wellbeing.


“Substance Use Disorders.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Accessed 5 Sep. 2018.

“Cognitive Health and Older Adults.” National Institute on Aging. 17 May 2017.

“Co-Occurring Disorders and Depression.” Mental Health America. Accessed 5 Sep. 2018.

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