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Depression Factsheet (for Schools)

Reviewed by: Amanda S. Lochrie, PhD
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What Teachers Should Know

It's normal for students to feel sad, angry, or moody at times. But when a sad or bad mood lasts for weeks, months, or even longer — and when it affects a student's ability to do well in school and with peers — it might be depression.

Depression is not uncommon among students. But it can go unrecognized or undiagnosed. Many students with depression don't receive the care they need.

Depression can get better with the right treatment and support. Mental health professionals treat depression with therapy, medication, or both. Effective early treatment can reduce the risk of future episodes of depression.

Teachers can help by knowing the signs of depression, taking steps to guide students toward the help they need, and by being a source of support and encouragement.

Teachers should know the signs that could mean a student is depressed. Students with depression may:

  • seem sad or irritable more often than not
  • seem tired, lack energy, give up easily
  • put little effort into schoolwork
  • have trouble concentrating in class
  • fail to turn in work, get lower grades
  • seem not to enjoy things
  • withdraw from friends or activities
  • miss school days, or be frequently late

Some students with depression may:

  • have experienced trauma or adverse life events
  • have other mental health issues, such as anxiety
  • engage in risky or self-harming behaviors (for example, be reckless or turn to alcohol, drugs, or self-injury)
  • talk about death or suicide

Teachers should know student behaviors that can be warning signs for suicide, including:

  • talking about suicide or death
  • hinting that they might not be around anymore
  • writing songs, poems, or letters about death
  • giving away treasured possessions
  • losing interest in school, classmates, sports, or other activities
  • engaging in risky behaviors

Teachers should be aware of suicide prevention methods, and follow their school's protocol for how to:

  • notify parents if a student appears suicidal
  • get help for a student at risk of suicide
  • supervise an at-risk student
  • work with the school's crisis team to set up a support system at school and at home

Students with depression may need:

  • treatment from mental health professionals
  • emotional support from a school counselor or school psychologist
  • a 504 plan for accommodations at school
  • short breaks throughout the day to avoid feeling overwhelmed
  • extra time or extra help to complete assignments
  • to take medication
  • treatment for other mental health issues or healing for trauma they've faced

What Teachers Can Do

  • Offer support and encouragement. Help students with depression feel welcome and included. Let them know you're available to help. Encourage their strengths and their interests. Look for opportunities for them to succeed in the classroom. Let them know you see their efforts — even the small steps.
  • Give extra time to complete assignments. Offer extra help. Consider having students work with a supportive peer to work on assignments or to study for tests.
  • Make physical activities a part of your daily classroom routine. This can help ease mild depression symptoms. It can energize all of your other students, too.
  • Make brief mindfulness practices a part of everyday instruction. At random or scheduled times, invite your class, "Let's all pause and take a few slow, calm breaths." This helps students learn and practice this simple but effective self-calming skill.
  • Use trauma-informed education approaches. Create and maintain an environment where every student can feel a sense of safety and inclusion. This helps every student thrive.
Date reviewed: April 2022