Behavioral Interventions for Students with Depression

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers will learn how to recognize signs of depression in children and adolescents and explore methods of developing an intervention plan to help students with depression succeed in school and beyond.

How to Recognize Depression in Students

Toni is a 12-year-old student in Mrs. Walker's social studies class. Recently, Mrs. Walker has noticed some changes in Toni's behavior. She's been sleeping a lot in class and hasn't been handing in her homework. Her grades have dropped, and she recently quit the soccer team.

Many teachers might chalk Toni's behavior up to typical adolescent mood swings, but upon deeper reflection, Mrs. Walker decides to reach out to the school psychologist. Together, they contact Toni's parents, who share that Toni has been sleeping a lot at home and has lost interest in her favorite activities. Toni's parents also reveal that they are currently going through a divorce.

Toni's parents decide to have Toni tested by a psychiatrist, who diagnoses Toni with depression, a mood disorder that can cause a person to feel sad, irritable, and hopeless. The psychiatrist develops a treatment plan for Toni that includes weekly office visits with a therapist.

Mrs. Walker invites Toni's parents to the school for a conference with the school psychologist and Toni's other teachers. Together, they develop an intervention plan to help Toni thrive in school and prevent her depression from worsening.

By the end of the school year, Toni's grades have improved, she is no longer sleeping in class, she has re-joined the soccer team, and her overall temperament seems to be much better.

Warning Signs

It's important to understand the difference between feeling 'blue' and experiencing depression. Everyone feels sad sometimes. Grades can fluctuate, students can appear to be sleepy in class, and even the most well-behaved student can get a detention.

Teachers should look for patterns in behavior rather than isolated incidents. For example, a student who is perpetually tired or sleeping in class could be a cause for concern, especially if the sleepiness is combined with other symptoms of depression. Here is a list of some of the signs and symptoms that could indicate depression:

  • Frequent absences from school
  • Feelings of sadness, guilt, and/or low self-worth
  • Sleeping during class
  • Not getting work done; poor academic performance
  • Seeming distracted, irritable, or restless
  • Defiance; behavioral issues
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Isolation; decreased social interactions
  • Pessimistic thoughts and/or self-deprecation
  • Changes in appetite

Consult Others

If you notice behaviors that may indicate depression, it's important to reach out to other professionals with your concerns. First and foremost, follow the protocol at your school for identifying students in need of support. Talk to other teachers to find out if the student is behaving similarly in other classes. Talk to the school psychologist and/or principal to help determine what the next step should be, such as meeting with the parents.

If a student ever mentions being harmed or expresses intent to harm others or him/herself, act immediately and notify the proper authorities. You should never take these claims or threats lightly, no matter how insignificant they may seem.

Intervention Strategies

Once a student has been diagnosed with depression, you will want to work with a team of school support staff members to develop an intervention plan. Members of the support team can include parents, teachers, the school psychologist, guidance counselors, the school nurse, administration, and even the student.

Here are some specific strategies and accommodations you can consider:

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