How to Educate Students With High-Functioning Depression
My friend Emily is in despair. I've just told her that her fifteen-year-old daughter, my student Brittany, seems to be in depression. Brittany has lost interest in most activities she loved in school, she often cries after lessons, she can't concentrate on study, and her grades lower.
Emily doesn't know what to do. She says she didn't notice any danger signs in Brittany's behavior. She blames herself for being an awful mother. How could she miss all those essential features of clinical depression?
Don't worry, Emily. You are not a bad mother. You'll help Brittany live with high-functioning depression and beat this monster once and forever. And teachers in her school will help you with proper educating students like your daughter.
The bitter truth is, over four million students (11,5% of the teen population) suffer from mental disorders. It’s a 37 percent increase if compared with that from 2005. Anxiety and depression impact students' ability to connect with peers and achieve good academic results; they stop caring about social growth, interests, and relations with close people; they cheat on tests and exams, forgetting about consequences of plagiarism (one of which is a weaker immune system, according to David Leonhardt)...
More than that, our mentees risk their lives when in depression: suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15-24.
With all that said, we teachers should do our best to help parents recognize the problem as well as consider proper methods of educating students in depression. Fortunately, there are some techs to assist us but, first of all, we should be able to bring the diagnosis which is the #1 challenge for educators to meet.
Mental disorders can manifest in different forms, and that's why they are so difficult to spot. When it comes to teenage students, parents and educators may confuse depression with laziness, shyness, and all that “teenagers being teenagers” stuff though some evident signs exist allowing teachers to sound an alarm.
In the case with Brittany, I noticed school absence, poor work completion, isolation from peers, crying, and lack of participation that was not typical for her. Such symptoms are telltale for teenagers: for example, poor grades may be a clear indication because depression inhibits motor skills, memory, and planning abilities. Depressed youths also become irritable, inhibited, sleepy in class… Once you've recognized a student in depression, your next challenge is getting to its source and make an effective plan of treatment through education.
What can you do?
My first step was developing a home-school communication system to have a chance of sharing information on Brittany's academic and emotional behavior with her parents. Also, I monitor if my highly-depressed student has suicidal thoughts (talks with Brittany and interaction with our school psychologist help), and I encourage her to participate in social out-of-class activities. I must admit that the latter is hard, but it's worth the efforts.
Other strategies include:
- Teaching goal-setting and self-monitor skills to students.
- Teaching problem-solving.
- Developing modifications of tasks for depressed students to respond to their ability to concentrate.
- Conversations with other students on the issue for better understanding and corresponding attitude toward depressed peers.
- Giving students in depression access to recorded lectures for them to focus on relevant information and perceive it in pace, most appropriate for them.
- Allowing mnemonic devices in classroom (anxious people experience problems with memory).
- Developing separate study guides for depressed students, which could help them focus on most important material.
What students in high-functioning depression need most, even if they don't want to admit it, is a supportive classroom. Today, Brittany knows she is not alone in her battle: all, including educators, school counselors, and her peers, express support, provide feedback, and keep the positive tone for Brittany to strengthen her fragile self-esteem and enhance her emotional as well as educational development.
For my fellow teachers willing to learn more information on how depression impacts children, I would recommend reading A Teacher's Guide to Fostering Self-Regulation in Young Students by Nadja Reilly. The author suggests methods for building resilience in school: play activities, breathing exercises with detailed instruction on how to use them, and techs for promoting teacher-parent collaboration to ensure emotional wellness of your students in the classroom.
Another thing you can do is teaching your students to manage stress. Strategies and mechanisms for self-regulation are different, and educators might want to practice them with all students, not just depressed ones. For example, encourage mentees to ask for help when they feel at their worst; or, develop some rituals for your students such as writing down a homework before the bell rings (simple yet effective, this practice teaches to cope with stressful situations in advance to prevent them).
Also, consider teaching positive thinking to your mentees. Studies prove that such an approach could build self-awareness and help young people prevent a rise in depression. Teaching mindfulness does the same: implementing it in your classroom with the help of practices such as P.E.A.C.E and Still Quiet Place would support students in dealing with difficult situations.
Depression impacts a student's academic, social, behavioral, and physical well-being. Knowing its symptoms and effects, we teachers can help mentees and provide effective interventions. For educators, it's a crucial moment to understand: we are responsible for not only academic performance but also safety and welfare of our students. Our duty is to help them win the battle, no matter what.
Lesley Vos is a private educator of the French language from Chicago and professional web writer contributing to publications on students life, academic performance, and self-development. Lesley shares her teaching experience on eLearning Industry, Plagiarism Check, AAE Teachers, Teacher Cast and other corresponding websites. You are welcome to drop her a line on @LesleyVos.