It’s sometimes a big shock to find your moody, irritable teenager, who’s behind in all their assignment work is, in fact, depressed. I’ve found depressed students in a school setting are often described as lazy and appear to lack motivation. Find out more about school support for depressed teenagers.

Depressed teenagers may fail to hand in assignments, and struggle to organise their timetables. Concentration on the task at hand is often poor and their teachers too often respond with punitive discipline. This tends to reinforce the idea that your teen is deliberately challenging authority.

This makes it all especially important that our teens with depression get support within the school, especially if they are to attend regularly and gain some academic success in their subjects.

At school, all students need a voice that is heard. Our teens can often tell us what they need help with, what they’re finding too much, and what would make the school load easier.

What they often need is for someone to organise how that can happen. Someone that can liaise with the subject teachers so they all understand why the plan is needed, who’s doing what, and what their role will be. Their ‘buy in’ will be pivotal too. It’s all about finding and maintaining a sustainable program of schoolwork, to prevent the teen from burning out altogether.

After all a diagnosis may end up just stuck in a file and classroom teachers may well remain unclear about what support your child needs. If it’s your child who’s depressed, you might need to be the person who gets this organised.

Don’t try and hide a diagnosis of depression. Your teen needs the understanding and support of the adults around them and they can’t get this if no one knows.

A key person will make sure the implications of a diagnosis are shared – the School Guidance Department is the best place to start here.

Yes, parents are always welcome to ring for an appointment. School counsellors appreciate that working with the family as a part of a team greatly increases the quality of support they can offer.

They also have strong links into the Learning Support Department and subject teachers within your child’s school. Remember school counsellors work with depressed students and their families all the time – they should be a great support and resource for both your teen and you.

School support for depressed teenagers

So what are some of the things they might arrange to put in place at school? Effective support at school for students with mental health concerns, learning or behaviour needs will be as diverse as the students are themselves. Some possibilities may include:

  • A referral to the RTLB service. ( Resource Teachers of learning and Behaviour)
  • A referral to the many outside providers available to offer specialised support.
  • A referral to the Regional Health School service.
  • An opportunity to take part in a social skills programme
  • A modified timetable – fewer subjects than peers.
  • Fewer academic subject choices.
  • Minimal homework.
  • A homework buddy with whom the student can talk and ask questions.
  • Limit reading and writing.
  • Specialist tuition in a specific subject area.
  • A “rest” period per day for lying down or reading quietly.
  • A later start time each morning.
  • The teacher writing step by step instructions out in simple language on the whiteboard
  • A time out card which allows the student to leave a noisy classroom for somewhere quieter for an agreed amount of time.
  • Teacher Aid support in class or for individual tuition in a quiet space.
  • A reader or writer for assessments.
  • The use of a laptop.
  • Information given to the student’s teachers on how to best support them in their class.
  • Teachers being prepared to negotiate what areas of their subject are best to focus on and which can be left out.
  • Involvement in a cultural or sporting group.
  • Mentoring with a senior student or staff member.
  • Regular contact / meetings between the student , school, home and outside provider.

Secondary schools are very busy places. But within the hustle and bustle wonderful things can happen to meet the individual needs of all our students.


To arm yourself with more information, check out our section on Depression. If you’re at all concerned with the health and safety of your teen, then you should go to the Ministry of Health website, or Depression.org.nz.

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Julie Mulcahy is married to Peter, a Primary School Principal and is descended from a long line of teachers. Julie has taught Years 4 through to Year 13, moved from country schools in Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Northland and spent the past 10 years in Auckland where she has worked for six large secondary schools taking referrals for senior students who had learning or behaviour needs.

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Great information you got here. I’ve been reading about this topic. I found it here in your blog. I had a great time reading this.


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