Depression In Education

Educators should be aware that students are particularly vulnerable to Depression.

Depression is classified as a Mood Disorder that may be referred to as Major Depression, Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder.

It is a medical condition that can be life threatening, affecting approximately one quarter of all Americans.  The persistent sadness or hopelessness one feels with Depression impacts thoughts, feelings and behavior interfering with everyday functions such as going to work and school.  

There are strong correlations with Depression and other illness - especially, cardiovascular disease. A common complication to Depression is suicide.

The onset of Depression can be triggered at any time in your life. The duration can be chronic, prolonged, (over years) or with recurring severe episodes.  Effective treatment is available and a full recovery is possible with early diagnosis.

Types of depression

National Institute of Mental Health define the types Depression :

Major depression,—severe symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes.

Persistent depressive disorder—depressed mood that lasts for at least 2 years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for 2 years.

Some forms of depression are slightly different, or they may develop under unique circumstances. They include:

  • Psychotic depression, which occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false beliefs or a break with reality (delusions), or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).
  • Postpartum depression, which is much more serious than the "baby blues" that many women experience after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not get better with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy.

Bipolar Disorder also called manic-depressive illness, is not as common as major depression or persistent depressive disorder. It involves cycling mood changes—from extreme highs (e.g., mania) to extreme lows (e.g., depression).

Depression does not discriminate

Suicide is responsible for more years of life lost, next to heart disease and cancer than any other illness.

Common symptoms

depression symptoms can vary from person to person

Symptoms common with Younger children

Younger children may display symptoms that include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.

Teen symptoms of depression

Symptoms  with teens may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.

Causes of depression

There is no known direct cause of Depression. It is believed a combination of factors trigger the disorder - which can vary from person to person. Investigations confirm genetics play a major role - especially if a parent suffers from Depression.  

Perceptions in Psychology have moved from Depression as only a mental illness to confirming physical changes to the brain when suffering with the disorder. Even though much research is still needed, the new knowledge in the studies of Depression have had a significant impact on successful treatment and even full recovery with early intervention.

Statistic problem
& stigma

Statistics are only as good as the data.  

There is a stigma associated with being treated for mental illness. Some may believe Depression is a sign of weakness, a person is crazy, untrustworthy, unreliable or just plain trouble.   Frequently if this diagnosis is shared, there will be judgement that affects social groups, job opportunities, relationships and other personal and professional areas. Unfortunately, this perception and personal judgement only makes the afflicted person feel worse and often increases the severity and length of the episode.  

It is not unusual for people to hide their own condition or that of a family member. Parents also often withhold family history wiith medical professionals which can delay their child's diagnosis - ultimately impacting recovery.

Because of this stigma as well as other factors (misdiagnosis, lack of resources), it is estimated that only 50% of people with Depression seek treatment.

This should be a priority concern not just for research accuracy, but just like all other medical conditions, it is found that early intervention is the key to full recovery.  

Depression Stats

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide and the 10th leading cause of all deaths in the US.

American Youth & suicide

Student risk

Unsymptomatic adolescent brain scan research have concluded that certain areas responsible for impulsivity and risky behavior are physically immature and underdeveloped. Other areas, such as those contributing to emotions are very enhanced.

There are many implications to these findings, but as educators, we will focus on how this translates to our observations in our classrooms.

The normal development of the adolescent brain, and external stress factors such as peer pressure, academic expectations, relationships, problems at home or with family may be enough to trigger Depression. If there is a family history, students are at even a higher risk.

Students are vulnerable to Depression due to their enhanced emotions, increased responsibilities, added pressures and expectations.

Students with Depression may be susceptible to an increased risk of suicide due to the combined Depression symptoms along with the undeveloped brain's impulsiveness and enhanced emotions.  

As educators, depressed students' suicidal risk is a serious concern.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10-14 year olds. It is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 15-24 (CDC, 2013).

The CDC reported on the national 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey with frightening conclusions (2010).

🔴. 1 in 7 high school students seriously considered committing suicide within the last month.

🔴. 1 in 9 planned their suicide attempt

🔴  1 in 16  students attempted suicide at least once

🔴  1 in 53 students have made a suicide attempt serious enough to have received medical treatment

Major Depressive Episodes among female adolescents increased from 11.7% in 2009 to 16.2% in 2013.


Yes, there is treatment that works.  

It may involve psychotherapy, coping and cognitive-behavioral techniques, and medication.  

In severe cases, Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be prescribed - formerly Electric Shock Therapy.  Electric currents pass through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT causes changes in brain chemistry that can quickly and safely reverse symptoms of severe depression. A side affect is short term memory loss, which is nothing compared to the relief the patient feels after treatment.

The right kind of social support. healthy eating habits, sleep and exercise can assist with recovery as well.

Only 50% of Americans receive treatment for a major depressive episode (NAMI).

✔️ The good news is 80-90% of those that do seek treatment for depression are successfully treated (TAPS).

Suicidal Warning signs teachers should look for provides us warning signs

Verbal Clues

  • "I shouldn't be here."  
  • "I'm going to run away."
  • "I wish I were dead."
  • "I wish I could disappear forever."

Behavioral Clues

  • Talking or joking about suicide.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Preoccupation with death/violence; TV, movies, drawings, books, at play, music.
  • High risk behavior such as jumping from high places, running into traffic, self-injurious behaviors (cutting, burning).
  • Obsession with guns and knives.
  • Previous suicidal thoughts or attempts.

What can we do?

As teachers, it is important that we understand how our youth express symptoms of depression, and do whatever we can to get them the help they need.

Current Research


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK(8255).


American Psychiatric Association. (2015). Depression, Retrieved from

Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2014). Results from the 2013       National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental health findings (HHS Publication No. SMA 14–4887; NSDUH Series H–49). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Mayo Clinic. (2015), Depression, types and causes, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research: Author.

Medline Plus, (2015) U.S. National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD

National Alliance on Mental Illness/NAMI

National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH)

NIMH, (2011), Depression, (NIH Pub No. 11-3561), Bethesda, MD

Comment Stream