How can I help students who are depressed or withdrawn?

How can I help students who are depressed or withdrawn?

Signs of depression can show up in the classroom in different ways. Teachers/educators may see a student looking down, zoned out or withdrawn and not talking; appearing tired and unfocused; forgetting things; being irritable; or acting out.

Below are some tips for educators and schools to help deal with these situations.


  • Focus on the whole person (not just their academic performance). As educators, we should consider what we can do to improve a student’s world and to take a step back from the schoolwork.
  • Talk to the student. Seek to understand them better – for instance, ask them how they are doing and what is going on. Use validating words such as ‘I understand’ and ‘That sounds difficult’, and acknowledge that this is a tough time.
  • Provide the student with a sense of hope. Express to the student that together you will be able to find a way forward. Discuss the fact that the pandemic is temporary and that there will be an end point to this.
  • Provide additional guidance. Students with depression are often unable to think clearly, and they struggle with planning. Help with scaffolding tasks –breaking larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps.
  • Adjust your expectations for the student’s performance. Repeated warnings and pressure to get assignments done without consideration of the student’s personal circumstance may have a negative impact on their mental health.


  • Normalise the struggle with students and provide as much encouragement as possible. It’s not realistic to expect that students will be able to perform at the same level that they normally would at school.
  • Provide general health and wellbeing sessions. Create a caring and compassionate school culture by encouraging staff, students and parents/carers to talk about mental health.
  • Educate students about social connection in the virtual world. To prevent withdrawal and the onset of depression, encourage students to talk and connect with one another.
  • Include daily wellbeing strategies. Use daily in-class relaxation exercises to encourage young people to calm their minds, focus on the here and now, and identify thoughts as thoughts and not reality.
  • Enlist help. If you are concerned for a student, speak to the school psychologist/counsellor about what additional help is available.

In the video below, Dr Anna McKinnon from the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University talks to teachers and educators about strategies to help students with depression.

Watch the video or download the tip sheet.

Video - How can I help students who are depressed or withdrawn?

Content owner: Centre for Emotional Health Last updated: 14 May 2020 2:08pm

Back to the top of this page