Most children feel sad at times in their lives. Feelings of discouragement, frustration, and even a sense of despair are normal reactions to loss or disappointment and may last for days before gradually disappearing. For many, the depressed moods are brief and disappear on their own. But when a case of the “blues” does not pass after a couple of weeks and begins to interfere with family, school, and other aspects of life, the low mood may be a sign of clinical depression. Being prone to more serious kinds of mood problems appears to have a genetic link and can be seen to run in families. But it can also develop in response to life circumstances—for example, if children are under stress early in life, their brains sometimes change in ways that can leave them more vulnerable to stress and depression for the rest of their lives. Depression is sometimes triggered by a sad or painful event such as a death in the family. It can develop in children who observe constant fighting between their parents or who experience neglect or abuse. The longer depression persists, the higher the risk it will reappear at later points in a child’s life.
Depression can shape how students view themselves, the world around them, and the future—they may feel helpless and hopeless and see no point in trying to achieve or engage at school.
These students are often invisible and become increasingly so as they disengage from the world around them, including school activities and academic interests.
Some students may self-medicate with substances such as drugs or alcohol or attempt/complete suicide. See fact sheets on suicide on page 45 and/or on substance abuse in chapter 5.