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Depression and School Drop-Out Rates

Knowing risk factors and protective factors.

Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States. That’s 1 student dropping out every 26 seconds—or 7,000 a day that leave school.

Among students who do not complete high school, over 20% prematurely end their education because of early-onset psychiatric disorders—with mood disorders being the most common.

Identifying risk factors for depression can help identify children who may be struggling with the onset of depressive disorders. And early detection can interrupt the trajectory of a mood disorder and help keep children in school.

Risk Factors for Depression

In early childhood, boys and girls appear to be at equal risk for depressive disorders. But when double-digit birthdays bring the onset of adolescence, girls are twice as likely as boys to develop depression.

Diagnosis of depression in children and teens is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Furthermore, there are no tests that positively indicate that a child will develop depression, much less pinpoint the causes. We do know that studies have shown how certain risk factors elevate the chances of depression developing in children. Some of the most recognized ones are:

I See These Risk Factors in My Child. Now What?

  • Talk to your child. Be present and ask your child about his/her feelings and the things happening at home and at school.
  • Create a safe and open environment at home. Make sure your home is a space that will limit judgment or refrain from criticism about what your child is expressing.
  • Collaborate with your child. Ask if there are ways you can help. Is there something that can be done at school? How can you make sure teachers and the school understand your child's needs? Should a learning disability evaluation be performed? Do you need to contact other health and support staff at the school? Are there issues at home that need to be talked about?
  • Contact your pediatrician. Make sure your child is in good physical health. Sometimes, medical problems can look like depression, for example, undiagnosed diabetes, anemia, or hypothyroidism. Once this is ruled out, and your child is in good health, an appointment for a mental health evaluation should occur.
  • Find a mental health professional. Involve your child in psychotherapy to diagnose and treat pediatric depression. Be sure the clinician is a specialist in mood disorders in children. Targeted treatments will be discussed with your child—and you may be part of sessions in psychotherapy too.

Protective Factors That Help Minimize Depression

Once you've identified that your child is experiencing a depressive disorder, there are evidence-based factors that will help reduce drop-out rates. Here are a few to incorporate into your life:

  • Promote good health. The basics for good mental health include being mindful of nutritious food, healthy sleep cycles, exercise, and meaningful leisure. Show your child how to be resilient by modeling these behaviors.
  • Understand child development. Take time to learn the stages of development for your child. Each age range has set goals that children should achieve. When you understand what your child is dealing with socially, physically, and academically, you become more empowered as a parent.
  • Offer unconditional support. This protective factor is enormously important. Helping your child feel loved, supported, and encouraged will help reduce symptoms of depression. Parental support also helps enhance your child's confidence and help bolster academic success.
  • Psychotherapy. Be encouraging of psychotherapy and the process therein. When you laud the benefits of mental health treatment, you teach that it's okay to need others in times of crisis. Having a positive outlook regarding mental health also reduces the shame or stigma a child might feel about having depression.
  • Communicate often. It's vital that all parties involved in the care and treatment of your child communicate often. Be it weekly or monthly, having conferences with teachers, therapists, parents helps ensure that depressive symptoms are at bay and academic success is continuing.
More from Deborah Serani Psy.D.
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