How should a teacher approach a student during their depressive state?

“This is an instance when a student is at an extreme low. How should a teacher teach this student during his or her state? How do those who are bipolar like to be treated by others when they are in a depressive state?”

Keep in mind that this post is not due to a medical opinion but a personal one. I am a person who has lived with bipolar for many years and currently am studying to be an elementary teacher. These are my opinions based on what I have experienced and nothing more.

As most teachers will tell you equal does not mean fair and that is something I would keep in mind when trying to reach out to a child that is in a depressive state.

Depressed children often exhibit behaviors such as:

1.  Irritability or Anger

2. Withdrawal from people and activities.

4. Signs of low self-esteem and with that an increased sensitivity to rejection so be aware and stay positive.

5. Excessive feelings of sadness and/or hopelessness.

6. Difficulty concentrating

7. Fatigue and Lower levels of energy

Some children may exhibit all of these symptoms, some a few and others more than the ones listed above. Since fair treatment is not equal the way you teach a child suffering from depression must be adaptive. One example of something which may be in an IEP, which a diagnosed child may have, would be giving the child extra time to do homework. Children who are depressed will often have less energy and motivation so no matter how smart they are their grades will suffer unless exceptions are made.

The child may be very hard on themselves and constantly negative. They will need lots of love and support. Positive affirmations are wonderful and they will not go unnoticed. There will be enough negativity inside the child’s’ mind that you need not add to it, which means being positive is essential.

A great thing to teach this child and all the other children in your classroom is how to manage stress effectively. Children have stressors too, often picking up many of them from the adults that surround them. If you teach a child to manage stress effectively you are not only providing a great life skill but assisting them with managing their symptoms. The less a child is stressed the less often they may have depressive episodes or the less time they may spend in them.

Maintain open lines of communication with both the child and their parents. All of those involved in the IEP are also great resources to help the child. Be patient. Each time a child is depressed they will usually come out of it however they will also likely have another episode so pace yourself.

9 thoughts on “How should a teacher approach a student during their depressive state?

  1. This is great advice for future teachers. Having depression related to bipolar disorder is not something i can relate to, but this advice is really good. I`m glad that you talked about using the IEP as a resource, and just to be patient. I think that i would of taken an el ed proactive pick up approach, but now i know to just give the child time and be an outlet if necessary. Thanks for the advice!

  2. I am studying to become an elementary and special education teacher. Reading articles like these are very insightful. In my opinion hearing from a person who has experience with a certain disability such as bipolar can be more helpful than hearing from an expert. I like how you specified that symptoms are different for each person that has bipolar. I also agree that it is important to keep communication open and that the family and people close to the child are a good resource. This was a very helpful article. I thank you for writing it was very informative.

  3. Thank you for this post. Remaining a positive, understanding model in the classroom is important in any situation, but especially when dealing with a child in a depressive state. It may be difficult to truly understand what the student is feeling and thinking at the time, but as you reminded me, acting as a support to the student is very important. The reminder to model for the student appropriate ways to handle stress was helpful. It can be easy to forget how stressful certain situations can be for students, especially those dealing with different disorders. Thank you for your insights!

  4. Thank you for this post! This advice is extremely helpful. As a teacher, it must be hard to understand what the student is going through unless they have experienced it too. I like how you spelled out the symptoms and behaviors that a student in a depressive state might have. As you said, not all students will have the same ones, but it is helpful to know what the behaviors are so that we can recognize what is going on. Staying positive and teaching how to manage stress are good ways to help in these situations. You can build up a child’s self esteem, and also teach them how to manage stress in their lives. That will help them in the future also. Once again, thank you for this advice. It is very helpful.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this post! Hearing from a mother that has person experience which a child that has bipolar disorder is very helpful for me as a future educator. I am studying to be an elementary and special education teacher and at the placement i am at right now there is actually a student that has bipolar disorder. When he is going through his depression cycles, his symptoms are very similar to the ones you were describing. I really like how you said it is important to keep open communication with the parents, the student, and the teacher. I think this is something that is crucial. I know that my cooperating teacher has a notebook that she sends home every day with her student that has bipolar disorder and every morning his mom write his teacher a little not letting her know how he is doing, what kind of night he had, how much sleep he got and if there is anything else she should be informed of. I also really liked how you said it is important to teach all your students how to manage stress. Thank you once again for your very helpful advice!

  6. Yes I would agree with everything that you said. I have a relative who has bipolar disorder and when he is in manic depressive states I tend to do the same things that you were mentioning above. Now of course being a teacher is different than being a relative of someone but it is important to show them that you care for them. For teaching I think it is good that you talked about stress because stress is hard for everyone but for someone who has bipolar disorder it can create bad cycles so discussing how to manage stree is a great idea. Also i like the idea of giving less homework or more time to finish homework but I would be nervous because I would not want this child to stick out from the other students as being a student that gets “special treatment”. Curious as to how to go about that. But thank you for your article it all was very helpful!

  7. I’ve worked with a couple of students who had bi-polar disorder. Offering positive support seemed to be the big aide in working with both of them and I don’t feel that I’m reaching to say that would help for all students. Open communication not only with the parents but also the student will help keep a teacher aware of the student’s life in and out of the classroom, as well as prepare everyone for best practices for assisting the student when they need it most. You have a lot of great information on this site, thanks for sharing!

  8. I thought this blog was very helpful. The information given here is very beneficial for teachers to keep in mind when they know they have a child with Bipolar disorder.I feel that this blog was written very simply and easy to read and anyone is able to understand the information given. It was nice that the symptoms of a depressed child were address so one would know what to look for. I think that the I am not a teacher yet but will keep this information in mind to help me better help my students. Thank you for your in out I found it very helpful!!

  9. Thanks for the post! I think this is really good information for educators or any who who may be working with a bipolar student. I’m glad you were able to put me into the shoes of someone who is dealing with depression from bipolar, it helps to understand what they are really feeling during this time. Leaving an open line of communication I agree has to be essential for success in the classroom. Thanks for the post and the advice!

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