Stressed Student in Fort Lauderdale, FL

Flunking out? How Mental Health Can Affect Your Grades

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

By Dr. Rachel Christopher

Symptoms related to depression, anxiety, or trauma can make keeping your grades up impossible. If you’re worried about bad grades, let me show you how mental health factors could be at play.

You’re visiting your parents for the first time since going away to college. You can’t wait to curl up in your childhood bed (a huge relief after that plastic dorm mattress) and get some warm home cooking, but there’s one huge obstacle in your way. You have to confront your parents about the fact that you’re failing out of college. 

You’ve likely been dreading this since you realized your grades were trending down. You’re experiencing a great deal of anxiety about it, and maybe even some shame and guilt. Let me break down the ways that mental health factors could be getting in the way of your success.

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

― Maya Angelou

I’ve always done well in school. What’s wrong with me?

I’ve had lots of clients ask me this question, panic in their eyes as they realize their status as a “good student” may be slipping away. I hate giving this answer, but it’s the truth – it depends. Take a look at some potential reasons below. 

Adapting to new study habits

You may have grown up as a gifted student and never were truly challenged before. If your typical approach to school never involved studying, and suddenly you have to, you need time to adjust and learn how to study. Raw intelligence alone isn’t enough to master organic chemistry (ew), and that’s ok. Take on a lighter course load until you’ve mastered the art of studying. 

Concentration difficulties

Most folks assume that if someone is having trouble focusing, it must be due to ADHD. Actually, a lack of focus is a common symptom of anxiety and/or depression as well. It’s important to meet with a professional to help tease apart whether you can’t focus because you have ADHD, or because you’re actually worrying so much your thoughts are jumping from one concern to the next. With anxiety and depression being the top presenting concerns at college counseling centers, it’s worth looking into. 

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
What mood is that?
Last-minute panic.”

Bill Watterson


Lots of people avoid doing things they don’t want to. Who doesn’t put off going to the DMV until the last minute? And if your parents were a significant force in helping you stay on task, you may be adjusting to self-motivation. Just like any other typical human behavior, procrastinating really only becomes an issue when it’s causing you distress or getting in the way of things you care about – like your grades. 

Will the real perfectionists please stand up? People procrastinate for a lot of reasons, but one of the most common ones I’ve seen in my clients is an inability to deal with the fear of judgment or negative evaluation upon turning in their work. You can solve this by increasing your ability to cope with these tough emotions. This is a great goal for therapy.

In the meantime, here’s something I found helpful while writing the endless papers for graduate school: Grab a sticky note, write “Done is better than perfect,” and place it somewhere you can see while you work. The paper you hand in ON TIME is the best paper! 


Stress can bring out anxious or depressive symptoms, especially when you have a new stressor going on. Just like concentration, poor motivation is a big part of depression. In other words, YOU ARE NOT LAZY, you might be depressed. If you had the flu, would you feel as guilty for not being able to get up for that 8am lecture?


The first semester of college is tough for a lot of people. You’re not alone in this. If you need extra support, or suspect you may be dealing with one of the symptoms mentioned, you can schedule a 15-minute phone consultation with us below. We can help you turn it around for next semester!

Fort Lauderdale, FL Psychologist Dr. Rachel Christopher

Dr. Rachel Christopher is a postdoctoral fellow in Fort Lauderdale and is an expert in working with teens and young adults. She is also an expert in depression therapyanxiety therapy, PTSD and trauma-related issues, self-esteem, perfectionism, stress management and more.

Call 954-488-2933 or email today to discuss how our services can help you.

Copyright © 2023 The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, LLC

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