Low sense of self-efficacy and depression

Depression, in a nutshell, is the feeling of sadness over a long period and self-efficacy the belief and confidence that a person can reach their goal or finish a task. When a person has low self-efficacy, it means that they are not confident in being able to reach their goals, which can lead to a feeling of sadness. If low self-efficacy is something that they struggle with over a long time, it may lead to depression symptoms.

Some studies found  a substantial link between depression and self-efficacy. The lower the students scored on the self-efficacy scale, the higher their risk of depression (Tahmassian & Moghadam, 2011). People who have a low sense of self-efficacy essentially do not believe in their own ability to complete a task or reach their goal. For this reason, they see these tasks and goals as threats. They have a negative mindset where they focus on their shortcomings, the obstacles they have to face and their failures. For this reason, they are at higher risk for depression and stress (Bandura, 1994).

Another reason that people with a low sense of self-efficacy fall victim to depression more easily is because motivation and coping abilities affect people’s stress and depression levels in difficult situations. People with a low sense of self-efficacy have a lower motivation to reach their goals and are not good at coping with failures or setbacks, they lose faith in their competence easily, this results in unreached ambition (Bandura, 1994). They see goals and tasks as more difficult than they actually are and this leads to negative and disturbing thoughts and fosters depression.

People with a high sense of self-efficacy have a different mindset when it comes to accomplishment and personal well-being than people with a low sense of self-efficacy. People with a high sense of self-efficacy approach difficult tasks in a different way. They see the tasks as challenges and learning opportunities rather than threats. This positive look at the tasks assures the accomplishment of their goals and it reduces stress and depression (Bandura, 1994). The mindset they have when tacking difficult tasks is a positive mindset that helps reduce stress and depression. They have control over their thoughts and their way of thinking, and they can steer their thoughts more easily towards something positive. This way, they can recover after a setback with more ease so they can try to do better next time. This will give them a more calm and relaxed feeling when faced with difficult tasks and reduces the feeling of sadness.


Questions for further thinking: depression and self- efficacy

  • What are indicators that a student might have depression?
  • What steps would you take if you see symptoms of depression in one of your students?
  • Why is having a high sense of self-efficacy important for a student when having depressive symptoms?
  • Why is having a low sense of self-efficacy dangerous for a student when having depressive symptoms?

Self-efficacy and locus of control

How do you react when bad things happen and/or things don’t turn out the way you wanted them to? Do you always blame others? Do you take responsibility when you make mistakes? How you view things that happen to you and experiences you have can be connected to how you see the locus of control in your life. The Locus of Controlrefers to your belief whether unsuccessful events/experiences can be attributed to internal factors (within you) or external factors (outside of you) Ackerman, 2020)?

Locus of control focuses on looking at yourself, knowing one’s true self and being honest about it. Let’s say for example; If one immediately has thoughts like, “I only failed this test because the teacher did not give me enough time to study—I could not do anything to study more” or “He moved out because she is too afraid to talk to me and difficult to live with, and I am not,” one likely has an external locus of control. That means that one does not have a solid sense of belief in one’s own abilities.

With a focus on the internal locus of control, you are quicker to admit your mistakes and failures, and you are willing to take the credit and blame whenever it is due.

Self-efficacy and an internal locus of control generally go together, but too far in either direction can be problematic. Those who blame themselves for everything are rarely to be healthy and happy in their lives, while those who do not blame themselves for anything are presumably not completely in touch with reality and may have trouble relating to and connecting with others (Ackerman, 2020).

Questions for further thinking

  • Are you aware of your internal or external locus of control?
  • Can you see/ tell the difference between internal and external locus of control?
  • How important do you think locus of control is?
  • Are you more internal or more external?
  • Do you understand the correlation between self-efficacy and locus of control?

Self-efficacy and fear of failure

Have you ever been so afraid to fail at something that you felt a reluctance or even an unwillingness to try (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.)? Or have you ever experienced feeling overly worried about a task that you found it hard to focus on this task (OECD, 2019)? These questions are connected to the concept of ‘fear of failure’. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation [OECD] (2019, p. 188) defines fear of failure as “the tendency to avoid mistakes because they may be regarded as shameful and could signal a lack of innate ability and perhaps even an uncertain future”. Ourlevel of fear is influenced by two factors:

  1. Perceived risk of failure in a specific task
  2. Perceived (negative) consequences of failing (OECD, 2019)

There is a correlation between self-efficacy and fear of failure. For students who do not believe in their abilities to perform specific tasks well, there is a bigger chance that they will be fearful of these tasks. How students assess and evaluate their abilities and their level of failure anxiety affects their feelings, motivation, and behaviour (OECD, 2019).

I have often felt a reluctance to try new things. I regularly experience strong feelings of anxiety. My self-esteem is very low and the things I know I can successfully achieve, I try to do perfectly. (Sanne van den Brink)

These are all symptoms of fear of failure (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.). These fear of failure indicators influence my self-efficacy. For example, sometimes in lectures teachers ask a student to come forward. There have been many times when I did not dare to volunteer, because I was afraid of saying the wrong thing in front of the class, or of not knowing the answers, or of not understanding what to do; many negative scenarios and thoughts cluttered my mind.

In these moments, my fear of failing stopped me from engaging in new experiences. This is due to the fact that I have a low level of self-efficacy when it comes to my unprepared presentation skills in front of a group of people. In other words, I do not believe in my abilities to present in front of a group of people unprepared. A student with a high sense of self-efficacy around public speaking, would not see a failure as a weakness, inability, or a fault. Instead, this person would persevere and try to see the unsuccessful situation from a positive side.

Building our self-efficacy allows us to see that obstacles, challenges and failures cannot be avoided (Chowdhury, 2020). Each time we experience success, our fear of failure decreases, and then we are more willing to try activities and tasks, which, in turn, builds our self-efficacy (O’Brien, 2019).

Questions for further thinking

  • Have you ever experienced fear of failure?
  • How could you create a classroom environment in which failing and making mistakes is okay?
  • How could you make students see mistakes and failure as something positive and an opportunity for further learning and improvement?





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