Classrooms Can Be Depressing

Kids do get depressed and can have other mental health problems

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(RxWiki News) School isn't necessarily a kid's favorite place to be. The classroom can be even worse, particularly for children's mental health, when resources are at a minimum and the teacher is unsupportive.

Although researchers have spent a lot of time studying the links between work environments and the mental health of adults, there has not been enough focus on the mental health implications of the classroom environment, says Melissa A. Milkie, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and leader of a recent study that examined the classroom's effects on children's mental health.

Results from the study show that children's mental health is negatively affected when their classrooms have inadequate material resources and when teachers feel they do not have the respect of their colleagues.

dailyRx Insight: Your child's teacher may instill depressed feelings throughout the classroom.

Using data from around 10,700 first graders, Milkie and colleagues examined how the classroom environment affected multiple aspects of mental health, including learning (e.g., attentiveness), externalizing problems (e.g., getting into fights), interpersonal behavior (e.g., creating friendships), and internalizing problems (e.g., sadness and anxiety).

Children suffered from worse mental health across all four categories when their teachers felt they were not respected by their co-workers and when classrooms lacked material resources, including paper, pencils, heating, child-friendly furnishings, computers, musical instruments, and art supplies.

According to Milkie, children's mental health may be negatively affected by a lack of resources because the children feel frustrated or discouraged by their surroundings. Furthermore, teachers may be harsh and less supportive when they feel like their colleagues do not respect them. The teacher's feelings and attitude may have a 'trickle down' effect on students, Milkie suggests.

Even though the study only looked at first graders, Milkie expects to see similar results among older children.

Depression impacts an estimated 15 million adults in the United States. However, pre-schoolers are the fastest growing age group for anti-depressant prescriptions. Depression is a state of prolonged low mood and aversion to activity. A person's thoughts, behavior, feelings and physical well-being are affected and may include feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, irritability, or restlessness. The primary treatments for major depression are psychological counseling and medications. Medication therapies include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). SSRIs include: fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®), sertraline (Zoloft®), citalopram (Celexa®) and escitalopram (Lexapro®). SNRIs include: duloxetine (Cymbalta®), venlafaxine (Effexor®) and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq®). Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is an NDRI. Atypical antidepressants include trazodone (Desyrel®) and mirtazapine (Remeron®). Each medication category has different side effects.

The study is published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Last Updated:
March 11, 2011