School health concerns: Depression prevention

Students are incredible. They are capable of making the Dean’s List four years in a row, breaking world records while still taking classes (yes, I’m talking about you, Missy Franklin), volunteering with their local communities every weekend, and maintaining social lives through it all. But what if I told you these feats of excellence could all come to a screeching halt due to one obstacle? Moreover, what if I told you that school staff members can help students from hitting this obstacle in the first place?

This obstacle that I’m talking about goes by the name of depression. “Depression” may seem like an ordinary, everyday word, but it’s actually a life-altering condition, especially when we’re referencing adolescents. In fact, roughly 20% of adolescents will be affected by a depressive disorder before they reach the young age of 18.

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Twenty percent?! If we’re going to be honest, that’s a frightening number. It means that out of an average 20-person classroom, four students could be quietly suffering from a looming weight on their shoulders. Those four students are the reason why it is vital to spread awareness about adolescent depression, and about student mental health. If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times: a student’s well-being is comprised of his or her physical and mental health.

So what can you – the teachers, coaches, administrators, and other school faculty – do about this troubling situation? For starters, being able to recognize signs of depression in teens is important. As a person who interacts with these students everyday, you have a unique opportunity to see how students’ moods change, and to flag abnormal behaviors.  Once you have done so, communicating these student health concerns with the appropriate health staff is paramount. 

The second portion of your role is to build a healthy school atmosphere that prevents student depression in the first place.

I promise, it’s not as difficult as it sounds, and I’m not trying to put the weight of the world on your shoulders. All this means is that instituting school-based depression prevention could help adolescents from becoming another depression statistic. Research shows that supportive adults, strong personal relationships, and emotional regulation skills are all “protective factors” – or rather, elements that provide a buffer between a student and the unfriendly monster of depression. So, by providing one or two of these protective factors at school, educators are placing themselves between the student and depression.

To accomplish this goal, teachers can develop activities that get every student involved in a social setting, talk to students about how moods and behaviors correlate with life events, or even provide tips for everyday student health. These ideas would increase a student’s personal relationships, and make them aware of how their emotions develop – both of which are protective factors.

And for students who may already be suffering from depression, making accommodations for those students could mean the world to them, because it shows the student that school isn’t a place to be afraid of. Instead, school can, and should, be a place to find comfort in the community of students and staff members. And when the entire community is aware of depression and how each person plays a role in preventing it, only positive results will follow.

To learn more about communicating mental and physical student health at school and with parents, view our complimentary resource on the subject.

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Resource: “Preventing Adolescent Depression: What the Studies Show.” School Nurse News, January 2014.