by: Katie Harrison

Defined as "a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies” (Merriam-Webster, 2015).

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Causes of Depression

Genetics, Biology, Illness, Medications, and Life Events have all attributed to causing depression. Depression is a mental illness that effects each individual differently with a variety of causes.

According to the 2009 Harvard Health Publication, there are a few genes that were proven to be linked to depression: the serotonin-transporter gene (5-HHT) and the CRHR1 gene; both of which have been shown to make individuals more likely to respond to life stresses with depression. Also related to genetics, there is an atypical DNA sequence (G1463A) that causes individuals with this sequence to be more likely to suffer from major depression.

As many Americans have seen on commercials, depression can be caused by a “chemical imbalance.” What does this mean? The brain is a complicated organ and there are many nerve connections and chemical reactions happening all the time, if there are multiple chemicals that are too low or too high the person’s mood may be affected. In the brain, the amygdala, the thalamus and the hippocampus all play a key role in depression. One of the many things that can affect these sections of the brain is stress; when an individual is stressed the hippocampus is smaller and that effects the processes of the brain.

Research has also shown that individuals with serious life illnesses are more likely to suffer from depression. Hypothroidism, Heart Disease, Degenerate Neurological Conditions, Nutritional Deficiencies, Endocrine Disorders, Immune System Diseases, Viruses and Infections, Cancer, and Erectile Dysfunction are all medical conditions that are related to depression. These illnesses relate to depression similar to the story, “The Chicken or the Egg?” because some believe that people become depressed after being diagnosed with a medical disorder; whereas, other people have suffered a medical disorder as a side effect of depression.

Other causes of stress include medications such as steroids, blood pressure medicines, birth control, sleep aids, etc. There is even evidence to prove that seasonal changes, lack of exercise, and limited exposure to daylight can cause depression. On the other hand, perhaps the most common cause of depression is stressful life events. This is most likely the cause of depression in our school age children. A student who has suffered from abuse, loss of a loved one, conflict with others, being a victim of bullying, a difficult break-up with a significant other, or any other trauma can face depression as a result.

Recognizing the Symptoms and Behaviors

The symptoms of depression can effect individuals emotionally, socially, and physically.

Emotionally, people battling depression will have a significant change in mood and will often show that through sadness, feeling of worthlessness, guilt, and/or irritability. Individuals coping with depression can also experience difficulty when they are trying to think, make decisions, or concentrate. These feelings can lead to pessimistic thoughts and can eventually lead to suicidal thoughts. The emotional symptom that causes a lack of interest in activities can lead to a change in social behaviors.

People suffering from depression begin to isolate themselves socially. They may begin to withdraw from social settings or change social circles frequently. Students experiencing depression may begin to act out of character, defy authority figures, and participate in impulsive and risky behaviors. These individuals can also face physical symptoms, including: changes in sleeping patterns/appetite, loss of weight or weight gain, stomach pain, headache, fatigue, and/or self-inflicted injury.

In order to be diagnosed with depression, all of these symptoms do not need to be present. In fact, “Diagnosis of depression is that at least five of these symptoms are present most of the time for the same 2-week period; and at least one of the symptoms is depressed mood or loss of interest” (Merrell, pg.4).

Photo Credit: Depression Of Teenagers -Insurance, Loan & Health. (2014). Retrieved February 8, 2015, from

Teaching Students with Depression

The most important thing to remember when teaching a child with depression is that depression is unique to each person who suffers from the illness. As a teacher, it is critical that you understand the child and their temperament. Sometimes the school personnel have the most vital role in identifying depression and intervening. With that being said, some strategies include teaching the student problem-solving skills, teaching the student how to self-monitor and set goals, foster an accepting social classroom environment, give the student opportunity to engage in positive social interactions, allow students to take short breaks as necessary, and be sure to monitor student for suicidal thoughts.

One other strategy, that also helps students suffering from depression along with students suffering from other disabilities like ADD, is to help students make outlines, assist them in taking notes, make conceptual maps, and use mnemonic devices. Since a large amount of students with depression have difficulty concentrating, helping them organize their thoughts will help them be successful in the classroom.

Laws Protecting Students with Depression

Students with depression are protected under the category of Emotional Disturbance in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This illness is also found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In the new edition of the DSM, known as DSM-V, much has remained the same on the criteria and symptoms of emotional disorders. However, previously in the DSM-IV, multiple disorders were grouped under one broad category, anxiety disorders.   Since 2013 that category has been expanded to three chapters, showing that each illness is distinct but still connected.

Treatments for Depression

Depression may look the same on the outside, but the problem on the inside is different for each individual experiencing depression. Therefore, treatment must be individualized. For most people undergoing treatment, an antidepressant is prescribed. This medication helps generate new neurons in the brain to help fix the “chemical imbalance.” However, for more mild cases of depression; phototherapy, exercise, and support groups have been shown to produce positive results.

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Family and Community Links

Often depression is directly linked to suicide. It is a serious illness and often those suffering feel alone. Listed below are several hotlines and websites of people who can help. For a full listing visit:

Crisis Call Center800-273-8255 or text ANSWER to 839863
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week

Depression and Bipolar Support
800-273-TALK (8255)
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week

National Hopeline Network

800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
800-442-HOPE (4673)
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week

Suicide Prevention Services Depression Hotline
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week


Crundwell, R. A., & Killu, K. (2010). Responding to a Student's Depression. Educational  Leadership, 68(2), 46-51

depression. (2015). In Retrieved February 2, 2015, from

Harvard Health Publications. (2009). What causes depression?. A Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. Retrieved on February 4, 2015, from

Lee, P., Lan, W., & Lee, C. C. (2012). Physical activity related to depression and predicted mortality risk: results from the americans’ changing lives study. Educational Gerontology, 38(10), 678-690.

Merrell, K. W. (2001). Helping students overcome depression and anxiety: A practical guide. New York: Guilford Press.

Symptoms | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (2015). Retrieved February 4, 2015, from

Teen Health and Wellness. (2015). Retrieved February 4, 2015, from

WebMD. (2015). Causes of depression - topic overview. Retrieved on February 4, 2015 from

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