Sometimes it is difficult to understand the discomfort of depression because it seems unreasonable to us. Children, youth, or even adults who are depressed may seem to others to have a completely irrational view of the world and to be frightened of things that are extremely unlikely to happen.
Bryan is a 10 year old boy who manifests many of the signs of childhood depression. He expresses sadness, social withdrawal, disinterest in sports, and increasing complaints of stomach aches. Over the past 10 weeks, Bryan has become increasingly disinterested in his studies. Although he continues to display excellent scores on standardized achievement tests, he has been receiving failing grades in many subject areas. His grades began deteriorating immediately after his father and mother separated. The separation resulted after a protracted period of conflict between his parents that ultimately included both verbal and physical aggression. During the interval that immediately pre¬ceded the separation, the parents admit to being preoccupied and had little inclination to interact with Bryan. Both parents have experienced depression in the past, and Bryan's mother is currently involved in therapy and receiving antidepressants. Bryan believes that he is at fault for his parents' separation and that there is little hope for a reconciliation between his parents. Although his father visits him on a weekly basis, Bryan is afraid that each visit is the last and that he will never see his father again.
Without anticipating problems, teachers may find themselves working with depressed or suicidal students. Too often, problems are ignored until they become undeniable and very dramatic.
Pat is a fifth-grade girl who is at or above grade level in all academic areas. However, she has been highly oppositional and defiant of all teachers since kindergarten. Large for her age and strong, she pushes, hits, and threatens her peers, who are fearful of her and will not initiate any interaction with her. She sometimes bangs her head on her desk or the floor, shouting, "I'm no good!" or "I want to die!" Pat was evaluated for special education only after terrorizing her classmates and a substitute teacher by tying the cord of a classroom window blind around her neck and jumping from a table, bringing the blinds crashing down with her in an apparent suicide gesture.
1. In what ways is Bryan's case typical of children experiencing depression?
Bryan is sad, socially withdrawn, disinterested in activities, and has physical manifestations.
4. What do you think were the primary causal factors contributing to Bryan's
The continual aggression of his parents toward one another before their separation was most likely the cause of his depression.
5. Supposing that you were Bryan's teacher, how would you have responded (what
would you have done) to deal most effectively with his anxiety and depression?
I would assure Bryan my classroom is a safe place for him. I would also provide him with extended time on assignments if needed. I may have Bryan read a book like What Hearts, which is a story about his age that is going through the same disruption in his life as Bryan, divorce. The book is appropriate and leveled for children Bryan’s age. This book or something similar would allow Bryan to know other children go through similar situations. I would let Bryan know he could come to me to discuss difficulties that are hindering his education. I would be certain to show Bryan compassion.
1. What do you see as the essence of Pat's problems?
More often than not, bullies are bullied at home. This is often a learned behavior. There is obviously something violence related going on in another environment Pat is exposed to. Pat could also be self-cautious because of her size and could be acting out as a defense mechanism. Pat has low self-esteem and feels she is worthless. Therefore, she does not feel she deserves to live.
2. If Pat's problem behavior were to have been prevented, what would have been
required (at various ages or grades)?
A relationship with Pat that is genuine and compassionate could have helped teachers recognize early warning signs. Opening the lines of communication to both Pat and her family could have helped Pat. There is really not enough information to make a determination for specific strategies that may have been helpful. Therefore, more research and data is definitely needed.
3. Given Pat's behavior, what suggestions do you have for her teacher?
I would recommend Pat’s teacher be extra careful to not use negative language when speaking to Pat with anything, because she already has a low sense of self-worth. Her “emotional bank account” (Steven Covey) is empty. I would constantly praise Pat for what she does correctly instead of focusing on what she does incorrectly.