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The Depressed Student

What can be difficult about interacting with depressed students is often they don’t come to class, are withdrawn and interact very little. You may reach this student through email rather than in person as you may notice absences in class, decreased or lack of class participation and /or decrease in the quality of the work submitted. It can be helpful to communicate to the student what behaviors you have noticed such as “I have noticed you have not been participating in class discussion as much as you have in the past” and to ask how the student is feeling. Some of the signs and symptoms of depression are as follows:

  • Withdrawing from others
  • Increased fatigue and lethargy
  • Frequent crying
  • Irritability
  • Disturbance in eating
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Difficulty concentrating, focusing, remembering things
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, and worthless
  • Loss of interest in usual things
  • Thoughts of suicide

In helping the depressed student, here are some do’s and don’ts:

     Do:

  • Communicate that you are aware the student is exhibiting depressive symptoms as typically a student feels a sense of relief when someone notices he or she is struggling and offers some assistance. It is as if they are drowning and someone noticed and is throwing them a life raft, so don’t feel afraid to say something
  • Ask if the student has thought about hurting or killing him/herself as it is better to err on the side of caution and ask
  • Recognize and validate the student’s feelings even if you don’t understand or agree with them 
  • Share your concern towards the student
  • Ask what the student has done to resolve the issue and explore services and options for the student
  • Ask the student what you can do to help such as walk the student to the Counseling Center
  • Be clear about your limits as you are not a counselor and offer to refer the student to the Counseling Center (see how to refer a student)

     Don’t:

  • Minimize the student’s feelings by saying things such as “toughen up”, “Things will be better tomorrow” or “you wouldn’t do something silly like kill yourself would you?” are not helpful and can be harmful
  • Ignore the sign and symptoms you observe