Written by the 2018 CILSE Fellows: Thomas Fare, Brooke Horney, Molly O’Brien & Ketia Stokes
May 15, 2018
It is S.T.E.A.M. day at your school. After two weeks of researching and working with the art teacher to make their displays and presentation boards, the day for students to show off their work is finally here! As on any other day, you stand at the door to greet and welcome your students. One by one, students enter your classroom, some squirming with excitement. The line of students walking into your room suddenly stops, and you notice one student is frozen in his tracks. Comments of “go” and “move” can be heard from students behind him. You motion with your hand for him to come forward and give him a pleasant smile, but he still won’t move. You motion for the other students to walk around him. As you approach the student, you notice he is sweating, looking down at the floor, and breathing heavily. He doesn’t respond to inquiries asking what’s wrong, and he doesn’t choose any of your suggestions for help, such as going to the nurse or taking a break in another teacher’s classroom. He won’t talk. He won’t move. What do you do?
Is this obstinance, or is this nervous energy? Is this level of nervousness normal or a sign of something bigger, like anxiety? As teachers, we encounter situations like these daily, and how we interpret student behavior has a significant impact on the types of supports they receive in school. While most teachers have not been trained as mental health professionals, it is crucial we become familiar with the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression so we can know how to best support and respond to students whose symptoms may limit their ability to participate effectively in school activities.
We’ve listed a few resources below that provide tips for how to recognize anxiety and depression, including strategies for how to address students who may be exhibiting symptoms. A few of these resources are specifically designed to share with students so they, too, can learn about anxiety and depression.
Are you looking to gain a better understanding of depression and how it affects those who suffer from it? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers excellent resources and statistical data on depression. Although many associate the CDC with physical illness, their purpose is to improve overall public health, including mental illness.
Significant mental health problems can occur in young children, often with lifelong implications. This site, offered by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, summarizes research that shows how early childhood experiences shape developing brains, but also points out that some children demonstrate the remarkable capacity to overcome these early challenges.
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), approximately 25 percent of American children will experience at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. The NCTSN provides teachers, school staff, and administrators with materials for responding to specific needs of traumatized children in order to counteract these possible educational setbacks. There are fact sheets, resource guides, webinars, and tip sheets for a variety of trauma types, including bullying, community violence, disasters, and complex trauma.
Anxiety 101, by AnxietyBC Youth, provides information on how to relax, face fears, and deal with sources of anxiety that are prevalent in the lives of today’s children. Their overall mission is to promote awareness of anxiety disorders and to increase access to proven resources. This user-friendly website presents a contemporary option to help children better understand anxiety.
TeensHealth.org is a great website for parents, kids, teens, and educators. This site is specifically targeted towards teens and provides valuable information about anxiety and how it affects them. Teens will find student-friendly language and learn how to identify normal anxiety, the causes of anxiety, different anxiety disorders, effects of anxiety on teens and how anxiety can be treated.
TeensHealth.org also provides valuable information about depression and how it affects teens. The site helps teens learn about the differences between sadness and depression, as well as the signs of depression, what helps depression get better, and what they can do to help themselves.
Similar to TeensHealth.org, KidsHealth.org offers resources for parents, kids, teens, and educators. This site teaches children about emotions, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that are relevant to their experiences, even at a young age. This resource also breaks down feelings into the contexts of school, home, and friendships.
Anxiety and depression can affect students of all ages and can significantly impact their ability to participate in class, engage with peers, and learn. Unfortunately, students struggling with anxiety and depression are in danger of not receiving the support they need because their behaviors are often misunderstood. Teachers are an essential part of a student’s network of support; the more aware teachers are of the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression, the greater the chances students will receive the support they need. We hope these resources will deepen your understanding of anxiety and depression and provide you with useful resources when you encounter students in your classroom who may be struggling.