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“Help! School Makes Me Depressed”: Advice for Struggling Teens

can school cause depression

It is normal to feel sad and moody at times, especially as a growing teen! However, when your sadness seems to last for weeks on end, or you are growing more irritable and tired as time goes on, this could be a symptom of depression. Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness lasting for two weeks or more. These symptoms impact how a person feels, thinks, and functions—disrupting their normal day-to-day life. Depression can keep you from getting out of bed in the morning. It can make you want to stay away from family and friends. Certain tasks, such as going to school, can make the symptoms of depression feel worse.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

It can be hard to tell the difference between moodiness and depression. Typically, however, if you find yourself veering away from loved ones and once-loved activities, for several weeks, this can indicate an underlying depressive episode. If you find that your symptoms are getting in the way of daily activities, this is another tell-tale sign of depression. Teenagers with depression also may experience:

  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Increased irritability and moodiness
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Trouble with schoolwork
  • Anger and agitation
  • Poor self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Problems making decisions and memory
  • Rebelling against parents and adult figures
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Not participating in activities you used to enjoy
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

In younger teenagers and children, depression might appear more physical. For example, young people with depression might experience stomachaches, headaches, and excessive fatigue or tiredness, without any other explicable cause.

Is It Normal to Have Depression in High School?

Depression can make you feel like you are all alone. However, many teenagers go through this. More than four million adolescents have experienced a depressive episode. In 2021, over 40 percent of high school students reported that they felt persistently sad or hopeless. You are not alone.

Does School Cause Depression?

For some teenagers, going to school makes them feel sad and depressed. While school does not inherently cause depression, it can create situations that are taxing or difficult for teens. For example, the following instances are more common in school settings and can trigger symptoms of depression:

  • Bullying

About 15 percent of high school students today have been bullied on school property. Even more students have been victims of cyberbullying (through texting or social media) off-campus. In both cases, female students were more likely to be bullied than male students. LGBTQ+ students were also more likely to be bullied by their peers. However, bullying can happen to anyone.

The connection between bullying and depression is evident. According to the CDC, “Bullying can result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, self-harm, and even death. It also increases the risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement, and dropping out of school.”

  • Violence

Recent research shows that a growing number of teenagers are concerned about their safety at school. A surprising number of teenagers have been threatened or injured with a weapon while on school property in 2021. And in the past 30 days, 9 percent of high school students did not go to school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to/from school. LGBTQ+ students were among the most at risk.

When young people experience violence and abuse, it can lead to trauma and – in turn – depression. All the while, persistent fears of violence and concerns for one’s safety can also lead to ongoing symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

  • Academic pressure 

Teenagers and young adults are still developing major life skills, like learning how to manage time and cope with stress. They are also building an identity and developing a sense of independence. All while this is happening, many teens face an overwhelming pressure to succeed in school. Sometimes, this pressure comes from parents. Often, however, it comes from within. With competition increasing for college, and an unstable economic climate, many young people are now striving to get perfect grades. Many overschedule themselves with extracurricular activities or work hard to become the best athlete. The pressure they face, combined with societal expectations, can trigger symptoms of depression.

  • Peer pressure

Peer pressure can also make teenagers feel uncomfortable and upset, inside and outside of school. Peer pressure happens when a person feels an immense pressure to do what others are doing – like drinking alcohol, trying drugs, skipping class, buying the latest technology, or taking part in risky behaviors like stealing and sex. Teens might do this to fit in with others, but it can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, discomfort, and sadness over time. Left untreated, it could also lead to suicidal thoughts and acts of self-harm. 

  • Social anxiety

Social anxiety disorder is common among adolescents, with about 9 percent of teenagers experiencing it in their lifetime so far. Social anxiety is present when a person fears certain social situations or performances, in which they are exposed to unfamiliar people. Those with social anxiety are afraid of how they will act around these strangers, or how others will judge them.

Social anxiety is not always obvious, but if you have a persistent fear of socializing with others, encountering people you do not know, or speaking in front of a class of unfamiliar faces, this disorder could be to blame. Social anxiety can make a person feel depressed. It can also prevent a teenager from wanting to go to school. After all, school is a very social setting. School can make teens feel anxious and depressed.

  • Sleep deprivation

While sleep deprivation does not happen at school, it is a common struggle that teenagers face and can contribute to symptoms of depression. It’s reported that the majority of teenagers get less than eight hours of sleep per night – an amount that is needed to maintain good, cognitive functioning and strong mental health. Early school start times, combined with teens’ natural propensity to stay up late, are the main factors contributing to sleep deprivation in adolescents.

How to Cope with Depression in High School

If school is making you (or your teenager) feel depressed, there are steps you can take to feel better. For example, healthy coping strategies for depression include:

  • Getting outside in nature
  • Exercising 
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Getting more sleep
  • Practicing self-care
  • Seeking support from friends and family, or a trusted adult figure at school
  • Attending counseling

It’s easy to feel like you can handle depression on your own, but you do not have to. Going to therapy regularly is a great way to cope with the everyday effects of depression and to get control back of your life. Even if you have not been diagnosed with depression, but are feeling sad or anxious about going to school, therapy can be beneficial for you. Regular therapy, whether in a mental health treatment setting or in regular meetings with your school counselor, can help you to:

  • Develop coping skills and strategies for handling negative feelings
  • Heal from negative experiences and traumatic experiences
  • Improve your relationships with family and friends
  • Develop a stronger sense of self-esteem and confidence
  • Improve your communication with others
  • Develop goals for the future and make a plan to achieve them
  • Feel more empowered and aware of your feelings and your abilities

Learn more about the benefits of therapy for mental health here.

Advice for Parents of Depressed Teens

Teenagers may have a hard time coping with the effects of depression, so it’s important for parents to step in and help. If you’ve heard your teen say things like “school makes me sad” or “going to school makes me depressed,” the first thing you must do is get down to the root of that sentiment. What is causing your teenager to feel this way? Is it bullying from others at school? Is it a result of overscheduling or an immense pressure to succeed? Is it due to underlying anxiety? Talking to your teen, asking questions, and listening without judgment can help you understand their experiences.

Once you do this, you will be better positioned to help your teen work through the symptoms of depression and the obstacles they are facing at school. You can give them tools to better their mental health and set the stage for a positive life by:

  • Establishing realistic expectations and perceptions of success
  • Encouraging your teen to build independent life skills
  • Promoting self-care and healthy habits
  • Protecting downtime and giving your teen the time and space to explore who they are and who they want to become
  • Connecting them with supportive resources at school and in the community

If your teenager is struggling with depression and having trouble navigating day-to-day life, professional treatment may be needed. For adolescents, depression treatment focuses on building life skills, developing coping mechanisms, and establishing a sense of connectedness with supportive adults and peers. Too often, depression goes unnoticed and untreated in adolescence. In a time when mental health problems are more prominent than ever among youth, parents can make all the difference.

Learn more by calling Turnbridge, a mental health and substance use disorder treatment center for teens and young adults, at 877-581-1793 today.