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Working With Depressed Teens


Depression is a common disorder among teens. During adolescence, hormones and brain growth contribute to a confusing emotional landscape. Teens face new responsibilities and pressures at home and in school. Combined with peer pressure, all of these stressful elements can lead to depression. Teens with depression may struggle in the classroom, leading to a cycle of poor self-esteem, academic trouble and social withdrawal.

For those pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling, it is important to learn how to recognize depression among adolescents. Not only does depression impede learning, it is also a serious public health issue. Untreated depression can lead teenagers to self-harm, risky behavior or suicide. Prepared teachers can use depression screening tools to identify the problem before the condition becomes severe.

Depression manifests differently for each individual, and the symptoms of teen depression differ from adult symptoms. The following are symptoms that teachers may see in their classrooms among teens with depression.

Difficulty Concentrating — Teens with depression may struggle to focus on schoolwork, and they may have a hard time remembering basic information. They may become easily distracted or forgetful, or they may have trouble planning and organizing. These issues can adversely affect a student’s performance, and it may slow their motivation to engage in the classroom.

Withdrawal and Lack of Interest — Depression affects a person’s interest in the outside world. When teens feel depressed, they may withdraw from clubs, sports teams or extracurricular activities. In the classroom, they may appear aloof, distant or confused. When a student loses interest in an activity that was previously important to him or her it may be a sign of depression.

Frequent Change in Friends and Isolation — Teachers can often identify friend groups among their students. When a student changes friend groups often, pulls away from close friends, or isolates himself or herself, it could be a sign of a deeper problem.

Hypersensitivity to Criticism — Because teens with depression struggle with feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, they are often hypersensitive to constructive criticism. They may feel like failures for receiving feedback from teachers, or they may feel rejected. Isolated occurrences may not indicate anything out of the ordinary, but if teachers identify a behavioral routine, the issue is worth further attention.

Substance Abuse and Acting Out — Teens with depression may begin acting out or experimenting with alcohol or other illegal substances. This type of behavior is dangerous and suggests low self-esteem is influencing their decision-making. Students who engage in risky behavior are often struggling with social pressure and looking for an escape.

For those working toward a master’s degree with a focus on school counseling, it is important to recognize mental health issues, including depression, that will likely appear in the classroom. Being able to identify students who may be suffering from depression is an important responsibility that can have lasting effects on a student’s life. Furthermore, understanding appropriate resources and depression screening tools enables teachers to be both helpful and respectful when working students struggling with depression. It is important to recognize and treat depression as early as possible to avoid academic setbacks, damage to self-esteem and the development of dangerous behavior.

Learn about Lamar University’s Master of Education in Counseling and Development with a Specialization in Professional School Counseling online program.


Educational Leadership: Responding to a Student’s Depression


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