Living and Wellness Depression and Back-to-School: Warning Signs and Tips for Parents By Mental Health, August 1, 2018 Depression is a well-known condition in adults. Surprisingly, though, many young children and teens also suffer from depression. The symptoms of depression can be aggravated by stressful factors like changes in routine, academic pressures, and new teachers. Mandy Fauble, PhD, executive director of Safe Harbor Behavioral Health of UPMC Hamot, says there a connection between depression and back-to-school season. Learn more about Mental Health Services for Children at the Safe Harbor Behavioral Health Program at UPMC. “Change can be hard for anyone, even adults,” Fauble says. “Several factors can make this more challenging, like the transition to earlier bedtimes and anxiety about a new school.” Even though depression in children and teens can happen on any occasion, there is a higher risk during the back-to-school season. “Students with mental health concerns, like ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder, are also more likely to have a tougher time switching routines,” Fauble explains. Warning Signs for Parents As a parent, you may wonder what the signs of depression in school are. Moreover, should you bring it up? The quickest way to identify depression in teens is to be aware of clues and ask questions. According to Fauble, you should pay close attention to the following warning signs: Sudden drop in grades Change in sleep patterns or the desire to be alone Lack of focus or forgetfulness Irritability Self-harm or change in hygiene Giving items away Suicidal thoughts or increased mentions of death Other clues of depression in teens are “lack of appetite, alcohol or drug use, and negative self-talk (‘nothing I do is right/nothing matters’),” Fauble adds. If your child exhibits symptoms of depression in school, it’s important that you connect your child with a health care professional for support. The good news? As a parent, you can minimize the link between depression and back-to-school for your own child this year. Steps Parents Can Take “Just like we help kids learn about brushing their teeth, hygiene, and exercise, start talking about health and wellness, including mental health early on,” Fauble recommends. “If we talk to young people about coping skills and what to do when they don’t feel good emotionally, we have created a channel to talk about it more easily as more intense experiences arise,” Fauble says. When the back-to-school transition looms on the horizon, Fauble points out ways to get in front of the jitters. “Many schools now offer ways to connect in the summer to ease anxiety around meeting new people or learning a new route to class,” she says. Finally, Fauble suggests adjusting bedtime routines a few weeks before school starts, and discussing any peer concerns your child might have. “It’s a good time for parents to process with their children and provide strategies for how to handle anything that comes up,” she says. Make mental health and wellness a part of your conversation with your kids. Ask questions to help your child feel confident, well-adjusted, and prepared for this back-to-school season, and throughout the school year. If your child expresses thoughts of suicide, stay with them and contact a trained health care professional through a crisis hotline, such as Safe Harbor Behavioral Health (814-456-2014 or 1-800-300-9558) or a local emergency room. Learn more about Mental Health Services for Children at the Safe Harbor Behavioral Health Program at UPMC.