With the beginning of the school year right around the corner, we know many parents of children with depression have questions on how to talk to their child’s school about their illness. We’ve taken a chapter out of our Parent Handbook on Childhood and Adolescent Depression to highlight how to go about ensuring your teen is getting the support they deserve from their school.
It’s common for parents to hesitate telling anyone at school what’s going on when their teen is suffering from depression or any mental disorder. As parents, we want to protect our children. We worry that if we tell someone at school, our child may be treated differently – or looked down upon.
But if you can judiciously talk to school personnel about your teen’s condition and their needs, you and the school can work together to help your child make the best out of a very important part of their day. You need to make sure the school is a good environment and that it’s providing the right services to your child.
Who at the school should know about your child’s illness?
- At the very least, your teen’s advisor, primary teacher and/or classroom teacher should know what’s going on. You should also consider telling your child’s favorite teacher– having one adult that your child trusts and can go to during the school day can be an incredibly important safety net.
- Think about contacting the school nurse- she may already have an inkling that there is an issue anyway. Many childhood depressions have physical components to them, like headache or stomach-ache. If the nurse knows ahead of time what’s going on with your teen, she is in a better position to help if and when your child comes to her office.
- It’s also important to talk to one or more of the school’s mental health staff- psychologist, social worker or counselor. These people can help your teen with his school-related issues. They may also be able to help your teen’s teacher understand how to make the classroom experience better for your child.
How and what should you tell the school?
The way we most effectively communicate with others is face-to-face, so we suggest you begin there. Ask for a meeting with those people you think should know about your teen’s illness. Consider asking the principal to attend the meeting, particularly if your teen is very young, or suffering particularly acutely.
Make sure the school knows the appropriate facts about your teen’s illness, treatment they are receiving, your thoughts on the ramifications of the illness for your child’s progress at school and your ideas about any changes or adjustments your child may need at school.
You may also want to share information about any social challenges your teen is facing. Who your child is sitting with at lunch or whether or not he has been abandoned by friends are important issues. The school should be sensitive to these problems and their effect on your child’s ability to function at school.
Think about giving school personnel permission to speak directly with your child’s therapist. You can even ask her to attend the meeting. Most therapists are comfortable working with school personnel. But be sure that you talk to her beforehand about which issues she should, and should not, discuss with the school.
It’s a good idea to follow up after the meeting with a letter or an email to make sure everyone is on the same page as to the specifics of the discussion, especially if you have come to any agreements with the school about changes to the school day to help your teen.
If you found this information helpful, read or download the Erika’s Lighthouse Parent Handbook on Childhood and Adolescent Depression for free. It offers answers and solutions to common questions that parents have about a child struggling with depression. An e-reader version of the Handbook will be available shortly, so stay tuned!