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‘We need healthy minds in order to learn’: Shashank Joshi on teens and depression

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‘We need healthy minds in order to learn’: Shashank Joshi on teens and depression

On School’s In, a Stanford psychiatrist discusses how parents and schools can support students’ mental health.

Shashank Joshi is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine and an associate professor by courtesy at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. In this episode of School’s In with GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope, he talks about the overall state of mental health among young people, and how parents and teachers can identity and support students who suffer from mental health problems.

Listen to the full episode at the link below and find more episodes at Stanford Radio. School’s In airs weekends on SiriusXM Insight channel 121.

Interview highlights

Increasing prevalence of mental health conditions

The numbers are not going in the right direction, nationally or in California. We've seen since 2009 things like depression and anxiety going up, not only in prevalence – the appearance of a condition at any point in time ­– but also looking at one-year incidents. These are generally surveys that are self-report, but if you track them every couple of years you can see that some of the indices are really going in the wrong direction.

Part of the increase has to do with better awareness and more school policies about mental health,  suicide prevention and wellness. Some of it has to do with the people who are in charge of the care of our young people—like pediatricians, guidance counselors, teachers—who are more attuned to evidence-based prevention initiatives.

Recognizing depression in teens

Are [some teens] spending so much time with a new group of friends to the point where they're no longer doing things that they liked before? It may be that they're so into that one thing or that one social media site that they're now excluding other activities. You worry about them dropping off their trajectory of the things that they were progressing in.

I really want to pay attention to things that I might be able to control as a parent, like are they sleeping normally? Are they eating normally? Are they doing some of the regular things they're supposed to? If you're beyond a week and you get to two weeks, then we start to think, “Okay. If it's low mood and loss of interest, we might be dealing with a depressive episode.” Mostly for teens it's a day and they're back … but I think for parents, it's important to pay attention to changes in the normal pattern of up and down.

Encouraging mental health conversations

We need healthy minds in order to be able to learn. Unlike a cold, which will go away by itself in seven to 10 days, if someone is dealing with severe distress … where they’re losing interest in things they want to do, their mood is sad for two weeks or more, their weight changes and sleep changes, then we want to encourage that conversation to occur earlier. We're not trying to turn [teachers] into therapists, but they’re probably the first stop for a lot of these youth who trust them.

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