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Treating teen depression in schools

Whilst various psychological therapies can effectively treat depression in teens, there are barriers to accessing treatment quickly. Simon Brett and Professor Shirley Reynolds illustrate how one particular treatment, Brief Behavioural Activation therapy, can be delivered successfully in schools.

Summary

Since one symptom of depression is the avoidance or withdrawal from rewarding activities, Brief Behavioural Activation therapy is a short programme, which focuses on helping young people to engage with the things that they enjoy and value, in different areas of their life. It seeks to educate teens about the links between their behaviour and mood, helps them to identify their values and the things that matter to them and can foster a sense of achievement, agency, confidence and motivation, reducing depressive symptoms. Simon found that when young people with depression were identified through school-wide questionnaires asking short questions about their mood, and if they wanted help with some specific areas of their life, such as low mood, anxiety or bullying, this therapy could be carried out successfully, by clinicians, in schools, with very positive results.

Implications

Implications for schools – Routine surveys about mental health needs in secondary schools are a great way to identify children who need help and directly asking pupils whether they would like help is effective. Using this sort of tool can help to foster a non-stigmatising school culture around mental health and wellbeing and can encourage help-seeking behaviours in young people. However, the challenge is to ensure that effective support is in place once this need has been identified. Simon’s team are still processing the full results of the trial to see if this sort of treatment could be rolled out more widely. More generally, schools should encourage their pupils to maintain hobbies and interests alongside their schoolwork, to build resilience around pressures in their lives, such as exams.

Implications for parents – Cultivating self-knowledge, agency, purpose and setting small achievable goals can be truly impactful as a means of alleviating teen depression. For all parents, the most important thing is to attune to your child’s interests and co-create coping strategies based on their individual values.

Resources Created from and Related to this Research

Simon Brett, PhD candidate and child and young person psychological wellbeing practitioner

After completing a Masters of Psychological Theory and Practice at Aarhus University, Denmark, and the University of Reading, UK, Simon trained at the Anxiety and Depression Research Clinic for children and young people and was appointed as a child and young person psychological wellbeing practitioner, working clinically at the University of Reading and in local secondary schools. In 2018, he began a Cotutelle PhD at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and the University of Reading, UK, researching how young autistic people navigate the social world. He is committed to understanding the distinct challenges and opportunities that face autistic and non-autistic young people and is dedicated to supporting the mental wellbeing of children, young people and adults.

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