As a middle school teacher, I often see kids exhibiting a variety of different moods and mood swings. Seeing kids suffer from depression is something different, though. Depression is a pervasive sense of unhappiness and sadness that often significantly impacts a child or young adult’s ability to function to their potential.
Recognizing symptoms of depression is important so that adults can find help and provide support for children and young adults. It’s important to know that no two people will exhibit all of the same symptoms or signs with depression. Some signs of depression in kids and adolescents are:
- Exhibiting general mood of sadness for over several weeks
- Losing interest in activities, especially ones he/she once enjoyed
- Exhibiting low self-esteem
- Difficulty completing tasks or making decisions on own
- Seeming to “not care” about anything, including consequences
- Difficulty focusing and remembering things
- Pervasive negative view of the world, others, or self
- Blaming him/herself for things that may not be his/her fault
At the middle and high school level, it’s particularly important that teachers their share concerns about students by talking with others in their building. Since secondary teachers only see that student for a short period each school day, it may be difficult to tell if the young adult exhibits those symptoms only in their class or across the board in all classes. Teachers with concerns about a student should talk with the guidance counselor, social worker, and other teachers who have that student.
It’s also critical to recognize that depression is not a choice. While it seems silly to even have to explain that, some adults may see a child or teen exhibiting possible symptoms of depression and make the judgement that he or she “just doesn’t want to do the work”. In most cases, it would be easier for the child or young adult if they were able to do the work.
Here are some considerations for interventions for students suffering from depression:
1. Begin by building and maintaining a positive relationship with the child. Show that you care and believe in that student, even when he/she doesn’t believe in him or herself. It’s something that may take several weeks or months to develop, but you can make a difference just by being a consistent and positive role model in the child’s life.
2. Maintain high expectations while providing supports. Instead of exempting the child from assignments or allowing them to get zeros on homework, help them through the work. Offer extra help during the last ten minutes of class when others are working in groups, or ask if he or she can come before or after school some days to work on lessons. Remember to not make this punitive. It’s important to show that the goal isn’t just “doing work”, but learning, because you truly care about the child.
3. Allow accommodations with work. If a child demonstrates low self-esteem over completing work on their own, find simple ways to help him or her do it with other supports. Start by providing a calculator or multiplication chart if the math work is a challenge. Give the student a graphic organizer for their essay and help him or her fill it out. Similarly, it’s okay to reduce the work at times. You want to allow the child to be successful at the task and build confidence, so it’s okay if you lower that bar at first so he or she can feel that success.
4. Use the child’s interests. Find out what the student likes to do and what he or she is good at. Even children and young adults suffering from depression often have positive outlets, whether it is art, sports, music, or another activity. Incorporate that positive outlet into the classroom when you can. Be creative! Can the child take an extra session of music or gym? Could you keep an extra guitar or keyboard in your classroom for break time that the student could use? Even consider allowing drawing time after a test or quiz to alleviate stress and allow for a positive sense of accomplishment after completing a task.
5. Talk to his or her parents. It’s important to find out what is going on at home for the child so the school can be a stronger support, when needed. If the home situation is challenging, direct the parents or guardians to appropriate supports inside and outside of school.
6. Seek help from guidance counselors, social workers, and administration. As general education teachers (and even special education teachers), we are not mental health professionals. Talk to the appropriate staff in your building with your concerns. Most of all, if you ever feel a child is an imminent risk to him or herself, get help right away.
For more information about depression in children, consider these sites: