Children and Depression at School

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • I know that the idea in itself is depressing. After all, isn’t back to school time for fresh starts and new pencils and all that jazz? If you’re wondering what happened to the past summer’s happy kid and are concerned that your child, or a child you know is depressed, here’s my perspective.

    I grew up with undiagnosed depression. It seems to have begun when my family moved to a town where a child’s social life and self-worth revolved around playing sports. I, as a bespectacled, uncoordinated bookworm, definitely did not fit in. I was the target of teasing and some physical bullying. In addition, I had undiagnosed ADD, which made certain aspects of schoolwork very difficult as well as causing me to lose focus pretty frequently. A few teachers appreciated my love of reading, but let’s face it – most teachers don’t like the geeky misfits any more than the kids do.

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    So the isolation and inability to fit in increased my depression, which of course made me even shyer and unsure of myself. It was a vicious cycle. I was miserable at school.

    Summer was different, though. I spent time with my sister and the few friends I had, riding bikes, climbing trees and going to the beach. I didn’t have to see the kids who made fun of me or struggle with schoolwork. I also spent part of every summer in Florida with my grandparents, which made school seem very far away.

    Then September came. Back to school, back to the teasing and the isolation, back to getting scolded for not paying attention in class and disappointment at my marks on tests. Back to feeling inadequate in gym class and during recess. Nothing had changed except for my teacher and classroom. I also got much less exercise and fresh air, which I think was a factor. My suspicion is that the exercise I got during the summer helped to alleviate my depression to some extent.

    This happens to many depressed adults on Sunday night or Monday morning. They’ve been able to remove themselves from work mentally for two days. Whether depression is caused by their work situation or just exacerbated by it, the impending return can be very hard to deal with.

    Many children with depression have what’s called school avoidance. Mine used to take the form of stomachaches. I wasn’t necessarily faking – it’s possible that stress over attending school did give me stomachaches. But any indeterminate illness like that is another possible sign that a child is depressed and that school could be a big factor in that depression.

    So don’t be surprised if this new school year sends a child back into depression, or seemingly triggers depression. Especially if they are at a new school, or are vulnerable for another reason (best friend moved, etc.). If this is the case, you do want to take steps to get a handle on the depression before it affects the child’s performance at school this year. It’s very possible that therapy is all that’s needed as opposed to medication. In an upcoming blog I’ll talk about treatment options for children with depression.


  • Last reviewed by a physician specializing in depression on 9/26/06.

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Published On: September 26, 2006