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Frontline staff: Depression

Hear from an educational psychologist why people working in the frontline may find it difficult to depression in teens and offer appropriate support.
My name’s Dr. Michelle Sancho. And I’m a Educational Psychologist. I’ve got special interest in early intervention with regards to mental health in children and young people. So in terms of how much a problem depression is, I would say that a lot more children and young people have low mood than one would probably think. Research tells us that it’s probably at least two or three in the average classroom of 30. But I think the difficulty might be, for teachers in particular or school staff, is that depression as we would imagine it would present isn’t always how it presents. So with adolescents, a lot of the time, they might have signs of irritability.
So they might be getting into trouble, getting detentions, or getting thrown out of class. And actually, that’s masking low mood. That’s actually the main difficulty that they might have. Certainly, before I started having a special interest in mental health and depression, I wouldn’t have known that that was a core symptom for depression. So that could be misinterpreted, really, as somebody who’s just being naughty or not following instructions. But I guess the key thing is that they’d be wanting to look for change. The other reason why it might be missed is because adolescence is a time when there’s lots of changes. And lots of young people change and develop and are quite different.
But the core things that we’d be really wanting teachers to look out for are the young person’s actually not coming to school because they can’t get out of bed in the morning. So it could be that level of difficulty that they might be having. Or it could be that they’re coming to school, but they’re just withdrawn. So it’s having big impact on their friendships. But it also could have an impact on their attainment. So they might be not performing as well as they were previously or just having difficulty concentrating. I think teachers often lack confidence in this area, because they hear the term mental health or depression.
And they worry that they don’t have the expertise to deal with young people. But actually, they’re often the best placed people to have the initial conversations with young people, because young people will know them well. They’ll have the relationship with them. I guess it’s just about opening up and having that conversation, that starting conversation, just to find out what’s going on for that young person, to try and understand. And it’s not really about giving that young person advice at this point. It’s just about hearing what’s going on for that young person and trying to understand more.
Much easier, I would imagine, for the young person to open up to somebody they know and are familiar with than a strange professional, you know, like the GP who they may or may not know and outside of the context where they spent most of their time. So in terms of advice that I would give a teacher who is concerned about having that first conversation, because they feel that they might make things worse, just take a curious stance in terms of finding out what’s going on for that young person.

Depression in young people is very common; however, it can go unrecognised (for example, symptoms may be dismissed as normal teenager behaviour, and young people might be reluctant to confide in staff about their difficulties). Even if a problem is recognised, staff may have insufficient resources (in terms of time and training) to support the young person appropriately.

In the video we meet Dr Michelle Sancho, Principal Educational Psychologist & Service Manager: Social, Emotional Mental Health and Well-being, West Berkshire Council. Dr Sancho discusses why people working in the frontline might find it difficult to recognise difficulties and offer appropriate support.

We’re particularly interested in hearing from those who work with young people. What are your experiences around talking to young people about their mental health and supporting them with their difficulties? What concerns do you have about doing this?

Add your thoughts to the comments area below.

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Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

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