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Depression in Students

Depression in Students

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By Chris Harris
Page 1
Depression in Students
What is Depression?

Clinical depression is a whole body illness that involves the mood, thoughts and behavior of the person. This disorder has a strong genetic component. It goes beyond feeling blue or the feelings involved in coping with a significant loss or disappointment.

Definition: Major depressive disorder (also known as recurrent depressive disorder, clinical depression, major
depression, unipolar depression, or unipolar disorder) is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low
mood accompanied by low self-esteem and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. (from

How common is Depression in Students?
Depression is rare in students before puberty and usually begins during adolescence.
It usually affects about 5% to 8% of students
Behaviour Characteristics of Depressed Students
Students can show some or all of the following behaviour characteristics if they are depressed:
Voiced hopelessness. Depression thrives on a negative attitude, increasingly robbing a person of hope and
leaving its characteristic "empty" feeling instead.
Increased irritability.While a depressed adult can be sad and withdrawn, depressed children can be easily
aggravated resulting in an irrational outburst.
Lack of energy or excessive fatigue. Does the student feel unable to get up at the usual time, too lethargic to
complete routine everyday tasks or less able to maintain the usual activity levels? This may be depression
sapping the normal energy level.
Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness. Depression is often said to be a problem of disordered

thinking, with "automatic negative thoughts" crowding the mind. Poor concentration and/or difficulty making decisions can be due to 'blanking things out' or may indicate the need to address the thinking habits which are allowing depression a foothold.

Frequent physical complaints. This could include headaches or stomach aches.
Social withdrawal. e.g. from peers and extracurricular activities
Decrease in grades and missed assignments. This could be caused by a number of factors but depression could
be a major factor. Directly linked to loss of energy
Eating disturbances, weight loss or weight gain. Loss of appetite and weight loss, or sometimes overeating and
weight gain, can be a sign that depression is interfering with the healthy eating habits essential for maintenance
of healthy mood levels.
Significant sleep disturbances. It is very common for depression to have an effect on sleep, leading to insomnia
and sleep disruptions like early waking.Sometimes there is a pattern of excessive sleep.
By Chris Harris
Page 2
Suicidal thoughts often expressed in writings or notes. Excessive negativity caused by depression can lead to
repetitive, unhelpful dwelling on death. Depression also reduces problem-solving ability and causes increasing
'tunnel vision', falsely making suicide seem like a solution to problems.
May show addictive behaviour. This may include heavy smoking, heavy drinking or heavy use of other drugs, or
increased use of these substances.
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Depression thrives on opportunities to promote over-harsh self-judgment

and feelings of worthlessness and being of low value. It causes people to inappropriately blame themselves for experiences such as being badly treated or failing to meet unrealistic standards. This can lead to corrosive and unhelpful guilt.

Increased tearfulness.Crying serves a very useful purpose - stress hormones are released through tears.
However, if a student is crying much more than usual for no clear reasons it may be a sign that depression is at

Important Note: If a student shows one or two of these characteristics, it does not necessarily mean that this student is
depressed. Consult with other teachers at your school who see this student in other circumstances (how is he/she in
music, art, physical education, or French classes). Do they see similar patterns? Are they seeing different behaviour
characteristics that put together with yours, clearly show that this student is depressed?

How Depression is Treated
Students suspected of depression should be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist for proper assessment. Usual
treatment for youth depression include medication or specific psychotherapy such as Cognitive Bahavioural Therapy or
Interpersonal Therapy.
Classroom Strategies for Teachers
Dont compare the depressed child to others; instead, make positive statements that reflect his/her own past
Express optimism that the child will again be able to perform up to his/her ability.
Dont take it personally when your efforts appear to be rejectedthe depression has led to distorted thinking
and perceptions, making it impossible for him/her to respond to appreciation.
Provide other expressive outlets such as journal writing, drawing, role playing and drama
Make a special contact with the student each daymaybe specific greeting at the classroom door about
something that has been of interest to him/her.
Educate all your students whenever and wherever possible about the topic of depression and the warning signs
of suicidal thinking and behaviour.
Encourage a healthy lifestyle, especially lots of physical exercise, which creates mood-enhancing hormones in
the body
Get help immediately if you are aware that a student is expressing suicidal thoughts
With older students, you may want to have the student involved in helping him/her self. This may have to modified
depending on the age level. On the websiteStudents Against Depression, see the section entitled self-help strategies for
tackling depression (http://www.studentdepression.org/tackling_depression.php).

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