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Brief Intervention May Prevent Increased Risk of Depression in Teens

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Depression in Teen

A new study published in the in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, states that educating teens about the changes that can happen in one's personality, can help them in warding off depressive symptoms. Such symptoms are quite common when a child transits into high school and can be prevented via a low cost, one-time intervention.


David Scott Yeager of the University of Texas at Austin states that these finding are important, because only few interventions are known that have successfully helped in fighting off depressive symptoms among high schoolers. However, one should remember that these interventions does not work like magic and may not help everyone in the same degree. In order to make them more effective, further testing is necessary.  Adolescence is a challenging period is many ways “ it is marked by puberty, a lot of changes happen in the friendship networks and status hierarchy. Studies says that a number of cases of lifelong depression start during this phase.


It is surprising that a short exposure to a message can help kids during a vital transition in their life “ the first few weeks of high school. Of course, it doesn't solve every problem that a child could be experiencing. But, it can help significantly. Prevention is always better than curing and treating later “ it doesn't just save you money, but it also paves way for avoiding suffering.


Yeager explored a scenario when teens are excluded or bullied. She said that teens think that it can be because they are not liked by others or maybe they are looked upon as losers. We need to find out if teaching teens that people do change can reduce such thoughts and if it can prevent the symptoms of depression. To carry out their study, Yeager and graduate student co-author Adriana Sum Miu of Emory University did a longitudinal intervention study with around 600 ninth graders across three different high schools.


At the beginning of the school year, the participating students were randomly assigned in the treatment intervention. They were not made aware of the group assignment. In fact, both the activities took place during a normal class period and needed only paper or a computer.


Students that were assigned to the treatment intervention were given a passage to read. It described how individuals’ personalities change over time. It explained that being bullied is not a result of a fixed, personal deficiency, and in fact, not all bullies essentially “bad” people. Following this passage was an article about brain plasticity and endorsements from older students. When the students finished reading the material, they were asked to write what they just read in their own words, so that the same can be shared with future ninth graders.

Students who were in the control group were given a passage that focused on the changes that happen in a trait not related to personality: athletic ability to read.


A follow-up was help 9 months later and it revealed that clinically significant depressive symptoms rose among students in the control group by around 39%. However, students who learnt about the changes that happen in a person did not show such increase in depressive symptoms. On further analysis of data it was clear that intervention mainly affected depressive symptoms of negative mood, feelings of ineffectiveness, and low self-esteem.


The findings of these studies are promising because they require only a small amount of time and effort. But, the results it can offer can be really helpful in helping teens transit through a challenging phase of life. However, Yeager cautions that these results can raise many new questions like if it will work equally well for all students, which symptoms are affected most and which ones are least affected? Will such an intervention work even in freshman year? The answers to the same can only be found through more research.