Mood - Depression

General Information

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.

General Characteristics To Look For

At school may include
  • drop in grades
  • showing up late or habitually truant from school
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • loss of interest in taking part in activities
  • refusal to do school work
  • non-compliance with rules
  • avoiding others
  • sits in the back of the classroom and refuses to participate
  • when asked why they are not doing their work they will often respond, “ I don’t know” or “It’s not important”.

Overall may include
  • feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness
  • feeling unreasonably guilty and hopeless
  • loss of energy
  • feeling very tired
  • thoughts of death or suicide
  • low self-esteem
  • eating more or less than usual
  • sleeping more or less than usual

Impact On Student Success

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.

  • Review information about the signs of depression and seek consultation with others if a child seems to be depressed—remember sullen is often really sad.
  • Seek further direction and help immediately if a child expresses suicidal thoughts/ideation.
  • Directly foster links with other children through sports or arts activities, group work.
  • Recognize that a child who is depressed is more sensitive to criticism and requires praise and support.
  • Collaborate with colleagues who can compare how the child behaves in the classroom with how he/she is functioning outside the classroom.
  • Directly foster links with other students and school activities; for elementary students, a buddy for the classroom and playground may help.
  • Continue to expect students to perform academically, but consider modifying the rate and volume of completion, and build a concrete “how” and “when” strategy to guide their academic work effort.
  • Recognize that a student who is depressed is more sensitive to criticism and requires praise and support.
  • Establish a daily communication plan with parents/caregivers to monitor moods.
  • Monitor attendance with students and parents/caregivers.
  • Build a partnership and follow protocol with community agencies that can help assess suicide risk.
  • Provide professional development opportunities for staff.
  • Support student participation in vital areas of school life outside the classroom.
  • Pay attention if a child is exhibiting the signs and symptoms of depression and seek professional help from the family doctor and/or counselling supports.
  • Work with the school team to help monitor mood, energy, and capacity to complete work.
  • Do not allow the child to withdraw or retreat from commitment. Facilitate ongoing participation in community or school activities—sometimes building in extra support can help ensure follow-through.
  • Be patient and hopeful with children as they grapple with depression, remembering they would “snap out of it” if they could.
  • Provide general and individual psycho-educational assistance to parents/caregivers and school teams to help plan a response for the child.
  • Help facilitate referrals to specialized assessment and counselling services as required.
  • Build a community capacity to quickly assess suicide risk and provide safety planning.
  • Help parents/caregivers and schools participate in the implementation and support of services that reinforce evidence-informed approaches to treatment. Help build a team approach between home, counselling services, and the school so that the expectations for children are consistent across environments and the particular challenges of school environments are respected.
  • Persist and be flexible in engaging children and families dealing with depression.
  • Engage in ongoing joint training initiatives.
  • Focus on UPSTREAM prevention initiatives.