+ Responding to Students’ Depression

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An article in the October 2010 Educational Leadership , ASCD’s publication for educators, outlines characteristics of depression in children and adolescents, as well as suggestions for dealing with their problems in a school setting.

The article, by R. Marc A. Crundwell and Kim Killu, states that depressed young people often don’t ask for help at school because of negative thinking patterns.

And they may lack the necessary language skills and self-awareness to report — or recognize — their depressed state.

Characteristics of Depressed Children

  • Irritabilityat school: complaints of feeling sick, frequent absence, lack of participation, sleepiness.
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks/activitiesat school: isolation from peers, problems with social skills, defiance.
  • Short-term memory impairments at school: poor work completion.
  • Difficulties with planning, organizing, and executing tasksat school: forgetting to complete assignments, difficulty concentrating.
  • Facial expressions or body language indicating depression or sadnessat school: working slowly.
  • Hypersensitivityat school: easily hurt feelings, crying, anger.
  • Poor performance and follow-through on tasksat school: poor work completion.
  • Inattention at school: distractability, restlessness.
  • Forgetfulnessat school: poor work submission, variable academic performance.
  • Separation anxiety from parents or caregiverat school: crying, somatic complaints, frequent absences, school refusal.  

Characteristics of Depressed Adolescents

  • Depressed self-esteem and feelings of self-worthat school: self-deprecating comments.
  • Mild irritability — at school: defiance with authority figures, difficulties interacting with peers, argumentativeness.
  • Negative perceptions of student’s past and presentat school: pessimistic comments, suicidal thoughts.
  • Peer rejectionat school: isolation, frequent change in friends.
  • Lack of interest and involvement in previously enjoyed activitiesat school: isolation and withdrawal.
  • Boredomat school: sulking, noncompliance.
  • Impulsive and risky behaviorat school: theft, sexual activity, alcohol or drug use, truancy.
  • Substance abuseat school: acting out of character, sleeping in class.

The authors suggest that establishing a “touchstone teacher” who can be a non-threatening liaison between the student and other teachers.  They might meet once a week — perhaps on Monday morning — to target areas that need attention, review work, and set goals.  This teacher might communicate clear guidelines and coordinate work across subjects, as well as help with follow-through on a self-management checklist.

Crundwell and Killu also suggest teaching study strategies, such as establishing timelines, breaking schoolwork into discrete tasks, outlining or creating graphic organizers, setting up the use of recording devices to make sure class information isn’t lost and can be reviewed.

In addition, some students need help staying socially interactive.  Teachers can make a deliberate effort to promote an accepting and inclusive environment and to set up cooperative group work activities.

Sometimes, communicating with the student’s family is not only appropriate, but necessary.  Developing a robust home-school relationship can mean that everyone understands what is happening in both milieus.  When parents know about classroom events and deadlines, they can support their child’s engagement with school. 

And finally, the topic that must be confronted once it is mentioned: suicide.  When a student suggests that she’s had suicidal ideation, school personnel must faithfully monitor her.  For some students, it is helpful to develop a “no-suicide” contract, an agreement between the student and the school in which she promises that if she’s experiencing such impulses she will inform a health care professional, a family member or a teacher.  Make a list of people who would be contacted.

Strategies to Help Students with Depression

  • Give frequent feedback on academic, social, and behavioral performance.
  • Teach goal setting and self-monitoring skills.
  • Teach problem-solving skills.
  • Coach the student in ways to organize, plan, and execute tasks demanded daily or weekly in school.
  • Develop modifications and accommodations to respond to the student’s fluctuations in mood, ability to concentrate, or side effects of medication.  Assign one individual to serve as a primary contact and coordinate interventions.
  • Give student opportunities to engage in social interactions.
  • Monitor frequently to see whether the student has suicidal thoughts.
  • Develop a home-school communication system to share information on the student’s academic, social and emotional behavior and any developments concerning medication or side effects.

 sole source: article in Educational Leadership, October 2010 (http://www.ascd.org) .  Author R. Marc A. Crundwell is a school psychologist in with Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor, Ontario,Canada; author Kim Killu is associate professor of special education at the University of Michigan, Dearborn.

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