Mental illness is an ever growing problem – especially among youths. And this is an issue we need to keep talking about. We need to make sure that students who are suffering with depression know they can get help, and there is hope. Going to school, or attending class, is usually the last thing depressed students are thinking about. That’s why it’s important to know how to properly and delicately deal with these situations so the students are still able to keep up with their education.
That being said, how can you actually tell if one of your students has depression? While each student dealing with depression will react differently, here are some common symptoms:
- loss of interest in friends, activities, and things they use to enjoy
- they seem tired a lot of the time
- you’ve noticed they hardly eat or, eat excessively
- they can’t concentrate or focus during class
- they seem more irritable, angry, short-tempered or emotional
- they feel like a simple task is overwhelming
- they are more negative; express negative comments frequently
If you notice a student who has some of these symptoms, schedule a meeting to casually talk to them. Ask them how they’ve been finding their workload, if everything is going okay, and how they are really doing. If the student feels comfortable enough to open up to you, listen to them. Of course, as a teacher, it is not your responsibility to act like a doctor and a therapist. So urge them to seek out the proper help. But, feel free to ask them what you can do for them, within the classroom, to make things a little easier. For example, some students with depression also experience some feelings of anxiousness. This means they don’t like to be put on the spot and asked questions. Others may easily feel overwhelmed with the courseload, perhaps you could give them a couple extra days to hand in their assignments. Every student is different, so listen to their concerns and needs. It would also be wise to call the parents to ensure that the student will get the proper help – mental illness is a serious issue that should not be ignored.
What other simple things can you include in your classroom? Here are a few ideas that may be beneficial to the depressed student:
This is something you can do with the whole class – don’t single out the depressed student. When a person is depressed, it’s often hard to keep themselves motivated. Goal-setting gives students’ direction in their lives. Tell students to write down achievable, short-term goals. For any ESL student, this might be learning a new word every day. For a depressed student, this might be waking up for school in time. Encourage students to reward themselves when a goal is reached. Help them realize what they did to reach this goal. They will, hopefully, see that they have the ability to achieve goals and this puts them in a more positive mindset. This may also help a depressed person to see their value – which is a huge feat.
2. Positive Talk
Teaching students to think positively, and speak positively, has so many benefits – even for students who aren’t depressed. When someone is depressed, they usually speak very negatively to themselves. Teach students to speak positively about themselves. Use more positive language in the classroom, and avoid words like: never, can’t, don’t, awful and terrible. Remind your students that it’s okay to make mistakes, and they are all intelligent in their own very unique ways.
3. Healthy Talk
One thing that can help with anxiety and depression is regular exercise and healthy eating habits. Help your students to see how this can make a difference in their lives, and how much better they will feel. Perhaps for one lesson you can teach outside, or go for a short walk, or even make an ESL lesson about cooking and make a healthy meal. Living a healthy lifestyle includes getting enough sleep, and relaxation. Make sure to show your students how important it is to get sufficient sleep and teach some relaxation techniques.
Try some self-exploration activities to allow students to experience their talents, gifts, and strengths. When they realize their strengths, like creative writing, for example, their self-worth will increase. For ideas on how to do this within the classroom, click here.
5. Problem – Solving
When a student is depressed, they often see many problems but not many solutions. Help students to problem-solve – a skill that will be very useful later on in their life as well. How can you do this? Have students list specific problems, concerns, or difficulties. Have students articulate their problem-solving skills either through a written activity, one-on-one, group-work or as a class discussion. Provide minimal assistance – only when the students really need your help. Do this by asking direct questions. And remember to model the problem-solving method instead of just telling your students the answer. Remember to be patient, and understanding. Students with depression often lack confidence, so they feel they cannot solve problems on their own. Continue to give the students positive feedback and remind them that the process is more important than the actual solution. This will hopefully show depressed students that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and there is always a solution.
6. Leave the Door Open
Let your students know that your door is always open to talk. You want your students to succeed, so let your students come to you with their concerns. It’s important that students, especially ones dealing with depression, feel that there is always help available to them.
As I mentioned before, every student is different and every student will react differently when dealing with depression. Depression is not an easy path, and it may take awhile, if ever, for the student to feel like themselves again. So it’s important to maintain good communication with the student, and advise them to seek the proper help. There are small changes you can make to your classroom that will make school more of an attainable goal, and more enjoyable to your student. In the end, do what you feel is best, but try to be sensitive to the needs of your students.
Thank you for reading! If you have any other suggestions, feel free to comment below!