Causes and Conditions of Depression in Learners

December 2020

We’re doing something a little different in December and tackling the difficult subject of depression. We examine what depression looks like in both students and teachers and explore what resources are available for educators.  We also provide numerous additional resources for watching, reading, and listening to help us all  learn more about depression. 

Cover photo by art_inthecity, Flickr Commons                               

Other photos:,,

Watch before you read...

Santa Ono tells us that depression is so common in young people that it can be called an epidemic, but is one that can be beaten. Neurotransmissions explains depression in terms of the brain.


Our guest editor for this Think Tank, Marc Helgesen, reviews the lead-in videos we selected. Curtis Kelly tells us about depression in students and what we can do about it as teachers. Marc comes back with a clearer view of what depression is and is not, and later introduces some videos we can use with students. Julia Daley explores how a renowned podcast takes a serious look at depression, but in a lighthearted way. Then, Harumi Kimura relates her anxiety as an English student after being shamed in front of her peers and makes suggestions for teachers. Following that, we scrutinize the impact of the pandemic and then Patrice Palmer closes the Think Tank by examining teacher burnout while offering self-care tips to prevent it.


In the PLUS section, Tim Murphey introduces a book on depression to us, Hari’s Lost Connections.

Our Thoughts on Depression

About the Lead-in Videos Marc Helgesen

Choosing featured videos for this issue was challenging. There is so much quality material to choose from. HERE is a wonderful lecture for Dr. Robert Sapolsky at Stanford University. He discusses both the biology and the psychology of depression. The only problem is that it is nearly an hour long. We know a lot of our readers don’t have time for that.

Think Tank Articles

What Every Language Teacher Should Know about Student Depression Curtis Kelly

We have all heard stories from teachers about how one of their students suffered from depression…and that student took his or her own life.[1] Or maybe you have had that experience yourself. One of your students dying by suicide might not happen often, maybe only once a career, but for anyone who has had that experience, the refrain is always the same: “I wonder if I could have done something. If only I had known.”

[1] I originally wrote “committed suicide” but was corrected by one of our editors, for a rather interesting reason.

Depression, the Meme Marc Helgesen

We all experience sadness from time to time. That is part of being human.

What is your impression of depression? Take a look at the meme below (author/artist unknown). Many people assume that people with depression experience extreme sadness. That’s true, but there is more, too.

Finding Humor in Absurdity: “The Hilarious World of Depression” Podcast Julia Daley

It might seem a bit, well, odd to make jokes about depression, a mental illness that is not particularly known for its sense of humor, but let’s tune in to the wisdom of John Moe, someone acclaimed for his lighthearted approach to depression. John Moe and his team lambast depression in all of its bizarre manifestations with each episode of their podcast series. The podcast series’ inaugural episode was released on December 12, 2016, and the final episode aired on May 25, 2020. Yes, the series has sadly come to an end, but the entire four years of archives remain available to listen to for free on their website. For the purposes of this review, I picked out two episodes I found intriguing: “Depression’s Eleven Big Lies EXPOSED!” and “Imposter Syndrome: True Tales, Tricks, and Tactics for When You’re Feeling Fraudulent.” I approached listening to this podcast as a teacher, a brain nerd, and as someone who has fought their fair share of battles against depression.

L2 Pronunciation Instruction Can Elevate Anxiety Unless We Raise Awareness, Ease Stress, and Give Hope Harumi Kimura

Q1: How did you learn L2 pronunciation?

Q2: Do you have some negative pronunciation learning experiences?

Let me start this article with my own answers to these two questions. To Q1, I would answer that I learned about minimal pairs and practiced them in language labs in high school and university. I would describe the lessons as mechanical drills of discrete items, and that was everything I did in class as far as pronunciation is concerned. Well, it was in the seventies, when teaching based on behaviorism was still the norm in language classrooms in Japan. To Q2, I should say, “Yes.” One of my university conversation teachers had me stand up in class, just me. He demonstrated pronouncing /s/ as in “Sue” and /ʃ/ as in “shoe.” Then, he made me practice them many times, with all the other students listening to the awkward interaction between us. I couldn’t aurally distinguish between the two sounds. Obviously, I was not able to produce them as he wished.

Avoiding your “Best Before” Date Patrice Palmer

Exactly five years ago, I was in my 20th year teaching ESL and EAP. Instead of celebrating this milestone, I was making plans to leave a career that I had loved. Unfortunately, at that time, I had no idea about teacher burnout or more specifically, the warning signs. I had slowly lost interest in my work, stopped caring, become cynical, and even had a few unprofessional outbursts with colleagues. The warning signs were there, but I did not see them. Nor did my colleagues who had known me for several years. Burning out for me was a slow burn—like the feeling you get from holding onto a rope in a game of tug-of-war. I knew I was slipping, yet I couldn’t get a grip. It was painful but I could no longer hang on. In December 2015, I finally left a career that I had loved for twenty years.

Think Tank Plus

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions Tim Murphey

Have you ever thought what causes depression and anxiety, and what might be the ways to cope with them? Johann Hari wonderfully weaves together his own stories of coping with depression and anxiety as a teenager, and up through his 30s, when he started really investigating the topic.

Hari’s second investigative journalism book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions (2018, London: Bloomsbury), has been on the “best-seller” list in several countries. As with his first best seller in 2015 (Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs), he has traveled the world hunting for confirming research.

Call for Contributions: Ideas & Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Going Deeper

We, the Think Tank, are language teachers, not psychologists. It is not our place to give medical advice. But we do want to put teachers in touch with resources. has many short videos about depression and students. You may want to play one or more in class, in part to bring up a topic which is often taboo. We can make it clear that depression is a disease, not a weakness.

Note that before playing these, you can increase the size of the subtitles. (Gear logo) –> subtitles–> options –> font size. You can also adjust the speed to give learners more time to read and think.

Here are some very short videos we recommend.

11 Tips to Help with Depression in School

(4:33) Actually, these are good tips for anyone.

Recognizing Depression in Students

(2:55). Quite a thorough list

Helping a Friend Struggling with Depression

 (2:35) Friendly advice for adolescents

How to Help Students Overcome Depression & Anxiety

(2:40) A 3-step strategy

Depression in Children & Teens

(1:29) A doctor talks to parents

4 Reasons Why Depression is Getting More Common

(5:56). Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the subtitles to work. You might want to summarize the ideas before they watch.

Timely News

There’s a purported Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.”

Depression Has Skyrocketed During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Study Says

This issue is mainly about clinical depression and anxiety. Most of us aren’t experiencing those. But probably all of us are experiencing Covid19 Fatigue.

And maybe more. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Certainly, ongoing stress.

HERE’s a report from TIME magazine on how the pandemic is impacting depression. (Thanks to Tim Murphey for suggesting this.)

Pandemic Fatigue: Mental Health, Processing the News and Staying Occupied

In fact, just as we were putting the issue to bed, National Public Radio’s Consider This podcast ran this short episode on dealing with Pandemic Fatigue: Mental Health, Processing the News and Staying Occupied.


 For your own mental health, you may want to give it a listen.

Final Thoughts from Marc


Oops, that may not be the best title for ending an article on depression.

Two small things. Many of us and perhaps most of our students spend time on social media. If you type “depression” into the search box on Facebook, you’ll get this message. If you click it, you’ll get a series of links to sources of help.

Finally, a pecha-kucha presentation by the guest editor:

Learning to Embrace the Rainy Season

The black dog – a metaphor sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill.

“Depression is sometimes referred to as the “Black Dog.” Just like a real dog, it needs to be embraced, understood, taught new tricks, and ultimately brought to heel.”

Don’t KITY!

Sadly, talking about depression and other mental health disorders is still taboo in many places. Which is sad. If you hurt your body physically, you don’t hesitate to go to a doctor. If your mind is hurting, you should get professional help too. Don’t Keep It To Yourself.

And Eeyore has been diagnosed (joking, but it is here).

There’s also this wonderful abstract and picture, which is only available on a religious site, but can also be found on google images

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

        Curtis H. Kelly                 Skye Playsted                Heather McCulloch   



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