Earlier today we posted an article by Cait Irwin about art and expression. In Irwin’s book, (co-written by Dwight Evans, M.D. and Linda Wasmer Andrews), Monochrome Days, she shares her experiences as a young women suffering from depression and her road to recovery. The book also explains what is currently known about depression in adolescents, demystifying what is often a terrifying time. Below is some advice about coping with depression at school.
School was a huge hurdle for me, as it is for many students with depression. If you’re a full-time student, you spend more time at school than anywhere else but home. School is the place not only where you learn, but also where you connect with friends and get involved in after-school activities. When you have trouble coping, the effects can ripple throughout your whole life.
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to do your best academically when your brain is clouded with depression. You may find that it’s much harder than usual to pay attention, think clearly, solve problems, and recall information. You also may lose your motivation to study and do homework. Suddenly, making good grades and getting into your dream college may seem like hopeless causes or pointless wastes of time. If you’ve always thought school was important, and suddenly it seems stupid and trivial, that’s a classic example of depression at work.
Working With Your Teachers
Not everyone is as lucky as I was. I attended a small school where most of the teachers knew my family and were eager to help, and I also had the benefit of my own personal teacher at home for a few months. But whatever your situation, there are steps you can take to reduce the academic fallout:
- - Enlist the support of teachers. Believe it or not, they’re on your side. They want to see you succeed as much as you do, but they can’t help if you don’t communicate about your needs. Ask your parents to request a conference where you, your parents, and your teachers can all sit down and share information. That may sound like the last thing most students would want to do, but in your situation, it can work to your benefit. For one thing, teachers are less likely to view you as a “discipline problem” when they understand that some changes in your behavior are the symptoms of a mental illness. For another thing, this type of meeting is the first step toward accessing additional help from the school.
- - Find creative ways to work around depression. Often, little changes can make a big difference. One of my biggest barriers at school was just making it to class through the crowded hallways. Simply waiting a few minutes until the hall had cleared out helped immensely. Let’s say you think this strategy might help you, too. To avoid being counted tardy every day, it just makes sense to talk to your teachers first, explain how this strategy will help you succeed, and ask for their support. Of course, the specific adjustments you request will depend on your situation. If you’re having trouble getting things done while you adapt to a new medication, you might ask for extra time on an assignment. If you feel sluggish in the morning, you might try to schedule your most demanding classes later in the day.
- - Explore other options, if necessary. For most students with depression, relatively simple changes made through informal channels will probably be enough. However, if your symptoms are especially severe, you might need more extensive help. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) is the U.S. special education law, which applies to students who have a disability that affects their ability to benefit from general educational services. Some students with mental illness meet the criteria set out by the law. If you think you might need additional services at school, your parent can make a written request for an initial evaluation to determine whether you qualify under IDEA. If you’re eligible, you’ll receive an individualized educational plan, a written educational plan that outlines the special services you need.