Recognizing Signs of Depression in Students

Depression is defined as a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, according to the Mayo Clinic[1]. A 2014 survey from the Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration reported that as many as 2.8 million adolescents in the United States between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced at least one depressive episode during that year alone[2]. With the prevalence of this disorder, knowing how to recognize signs of depression in students can be extremely valuable in understanding and treating the condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Children and Teens

Depression cannot be attributed to one specific cause. Factors such as life events or even simply genetics can influence a student’s likelihood of experiencing depression[3]. Although depression sufferers may share common symptoms, the disorder affects each individual differently, with girls suffering from more than twice as many instances of depression as boys[4]. Oftentimes, depression coincides with other disorders as well. Those that experience anxiety or eating disorders, for example, may also struggle with depression[5].

As depression manifests, it can negatively impact students’ social development and their success in school. Young children experiencing depression may display behaviors such as clinginess, worry, or even a refusal to attend school, whereas teens with depression may resort to behavior such as substance abuse or self-harm[6].

Withdrawal, another warning sign of depression in children and teens, can have a large impact on the relationships that students have established. A student’s battle with depression may not be evident to everyone in their life, and could alienate them from individuals closest to them. This could include friends and even educators, who are often among the first to notice problems because students spend much of their time in the classroom[7]. Educators may initially see changes in behavior as a lack of effort on a student’s part, but with knowledge about signs of depression in students, this behavior can be identified and addressed[8].

Although the most common indicators of depression are behavioral changes such as sadness, difficulty concentrating, and withdrawal, physical changes can also result from depression. Weight loss, upset stomach, and headaches are some of these examples, along with a host of other symptoms, including:

  • • Low self-esteem
  • • Irritability
  • • Sudden anger
  • • Frequent absences
  • • Thoughts of suicide
  • • Reckless behavior
  • • Crying[9],[10]

What Types of Depression Affect Children and Teens?

Depression is classified according to symptoms that differ from one form of the disorder to another. Three of the most common types of depression among children and teens are[11]:

Major depression – With major depression, a student’s feelings of sadness are ongoing. Children and teenagers suffering from this form of depression struggle with everyday tasks such as eating and sleeping, and are unable to feel happiness.

Dysthymia – Students with dysthymia may have low self-esteem and find it difficult to complete day-to-day functions without persistent feelings of hopelessness. This condition differs from major depression in that it is not as severe. Students may experience dysthymia for a year or longer.

Bipolar disorder – This disorder is characterized by intense mood changes, ranging from moments of low-energy depression to high-energy irritability.

Treatment and Management of Depression in Children and Teens

Talk therapy and medication have both been found to be effective forms of treatment for depression[12].

  • • Talk therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy that addresses thoughts, behaviors and feelings among depression sufferers, whereas interpersonal psychotherapy is focused on the relationships that students share with others. Educators, parents, and therapists can all play a role in ensuring that students experiencing depression receive the treatment they need by providing them with opportunities to freely express their thoughts and emotions. Talk therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with antidepressants.
  • • Medication: Antidepressants relieve the symptoms of depression by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain[13]. If a doctor recognizes signs of depression in students while assessing them, they may prescribe medication accordingly. Because antidepressants can have a range of negative side effects, it is important that students taking the medication are monitored by a healthcare professional[14].

Whether an educator or a parent, when an individual learns to recognize the signs of depression in children and teens, they can better understand the disorder, show that they care, and extend opportunities for students to open up about coping with depression[15].

Those looking to aid students in managing their depression can utilize practices that will help improve students’ overall health and mental well-being, preventing the frequency with which they experience feelings of sadness. Suggested depression management methods include:

  • • Exercise
  • • Sleep
  • • Relaxation techniques
  • • Spending time with close family and friends[16]

Working Together to Help Children and Teens with Depression

Knowing how to recognize signs of depression in students is the first step in addressing the problem. By recognizing the disorder and seeking treatment for those experiencing it, educators, parents, and doctors can work together to improve students’ overall well-being and prevent life-threatening situations from occurring. Students gain confidence and strengthen their relationships when they are given the correct tools to manage their disorder[17].


[1] “Depression (major depressive disorder).” MayoClinic.org. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/definition/con-20032977 on June 8, 2016

[2] “Major Depression Among Adolescents.” Nimh.Nih.gov. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adolescents.shtml on June 8, 2016

[3] “About Depression.” KidsHealth.org. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/understanding-depression.html# on June 8, 2016

[4] “Mood Disorders and Teenage Girls.” Childmind.org. Retrieved from http://childmind.org/article/mood-disorders-and-teenage-girls/ on June 8, 2016.

[5] “Risk Factors.” MayoClinic.org. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/risk-factors/con-20032977 on June 8, 2016.

[6] “Depression (major depressive disorder).” MayoClinic.org. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/definition/con-20032977 on June 8, 2016.

[7] “What Every Teacher Should Know.” Public.Health.Oregon.gov. Retrieved from https://public.health.oregon.gov/PreventionWellness/SafeLiving/SuicidePrevention/Pages/steps.aspx on June 8, 2016. on June 8, 2016.

[8] “Responding to a Student’s Depression.” Ascd.org. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct10/vol68/num02/Responding-to-a-Student’s-Depression.aspx on June 8, 2016.

[9] “Symptoms.” Mayoclinic.org. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/symptoms/con-20032977 on June 8, 2016.

[10] “Depression.” Kidshealth.org. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/depression.html# on June 8, 2016.

[11] “About Depression.” KidsHealth.org. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/understanding-depression.html on June 8, 2016.

[12] “Teen Depression.” Nimh.Nih.gov. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml on June 8. 2016.

[13] “Antidepressants: Selecting One That’s Right for You.” Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20046273 on June 8, 2016.

[14] “Teen Depression.” Nimh.Nih.gov. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/teen-depression/diagnosis-treatment/treatment/txc-20164566 on June 8, 2016.

[15] “Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression.” Helpguide.org. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/teen-depression-signs-help.html on June 8, 2016.

[16] “Teen Depression.” Nimh.Nih.gov. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml#pub5 on June 8, 2016.

[17] “Teen Depression.” Nimh.Nih.gov. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml on June 8, 2016.



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