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
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.