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According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, "About 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general population suffer from depression at any given point in time." Some experts estimate the numbers to be much higher. Suicide.org estimates that 20 percent of high school students in America consider suicide at some point. Depressive behavior in students can be temporary, lasting from six months to several years. Some students suffer from a long-term chronic form of depression that is lifelong. Seventy percent of children never receive help for their depression, according to Therese J. Borchard on PsychCentral.com Children who do not receive medical treatment for depression are significantly more likely to attempt suicide.
Besides suicide risk, depressed children can exhibit one or more symptoms that are destructive to their lives. Depressed children often have low self-esteem and are sensitive to constructive criticism. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have eating disorders, and participate in self-mutilation. Depressed students are often irritable and sometimes even violent. A student who was once an active participant in the classroom may suddenly withdraw from classroom activities.
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Spotting the Signs
Growing up is difficult. Hormonal changes and life changes all require emotional adjustments. It is normal for a child to experience brief periods of depression and display mild outbursts of resistance to authority. When periods of depression are extended and behavior is disruptive, a child needs help. Threats of suicide should never be taken lightly; they are a cry for help. The students whom teachers find to be the most behaviorally challenging are often the very students who are crying out for help.
It is rare for a student to come to a teacher and ask for emotional help. Depression often goes unrecognized at home. The child's symptoms get dismissed as normal adolescent behavior. Depressive symptoms are mistaken for normal teenage angst. Teachers are often the ones who recognize that their student is exhibiting signs of depression. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs of adolescent depression as:
- Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings.
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness.
- Irritability, restlessness.
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex.
- Fatigue and decreased energy.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping.
- Overeating, or appetite loss.
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts.
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
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Teachers who recognize signs of depression in their students should take action. The teacher should talk to the student privately to discuss their concerns. The teacher must remain non-judgmental and speak without accusation. Students should be referred to school counselors for help. Teachers, student counselors and parents should work as a team to get treatment for depressed students. With a combination of counseling and medication, students can once again live a healthy and happy life.
- Author unknown, "The Depressed Child," Facts for Families (May 2008), American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
- Borchard, Therese J. Why Are So Many Teens Depressed? On World of Psychology.
- National Institute of Mental Health: Signs and Symptoms of Depression.