Document Type


Source of Publication

BMC Psychiatry

Publication Date



© 2020 The Author(s). Background: Many university students experience depression and anxiety, both of which have been shown to affect cognitive function. However, the impact of these emotional difficulties on academic performance is unclear. This study aims to determine the prevalence of depression and anxiety in university students in United Arab Emirates (UAE). It further seeks to explore the relationship between emotional difficulties and students' academic performance. Methods: This longitudinal study recruited 404 students (aged 17-25 years) attending one UAE university (80.4% response rate). At baseline, participants completed a paper-based survey to assess socio-economic factors and academic performance, including most recent grade point average (GPA) and attendance warnings. PHQ-9 and GAD-7 scales were used to assess depressive and anxiety symptoms. At six-month follow-up, 134 participants (33.3%) provided details of their current GPA. Results: Over a third of students (34.2%; CIs 29.7-38.9%) screened for possible major depressive disorder (MDD; PHQ-9 ≥ 10) but less than a quarter (22.3%; CIs 18.2-26.3%) screened for possible generalized anxiety disorder (GAD; GAD-7 ≥ 10). The Possible MDD group had lower GPAs (p = 0.003) at baseline and were less satisfied with their studies (p = 0.015). The MDD group also had lower GPAs at follow-up (p = 0.035). The Possible GAD group had lower GPAs at baseline (p = 0.003) but did not differ at follow-up. The relationship between GAD group and GPA was moderated by gender with female students in the Possible GAD group having lower GPAs (p < 0.001) than females in the Non-GAD group. Male students in the Possible GAD group had non-significantly higher GPA scores. Higher levels of both depression and anxiety symptoms scores were associated with lower GPAs at baseline. PHQ-9 scores, but not GAD-7 scores, independently predicted lower GPA scores at follow-up (p = 0.006). This relationship was no longer statistically significant after controlling for baseline GPA (p < 0.09). Conclusion: This study confirms previous findings that around a third of university students are likely to be experiencing a depressive disorder at any one time. Furthermore, it provides important evidence regarding the negative impacts of emotional difficulties on students' academic performance. The results support the need to consider the mental health of students who are struggling academically and highlight the importance of signposting those students to appropriate support, including evidence-based therapies.




BioMed Central Ltd





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Business | Medicine and Health Sciences


Academic performance, Anxiety, Depression, University students

Scopus ID


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Indexed in Scopus


Open Access


Open Access Type

Gold: This publication is openly available in an open access journal/series