Suicide is the second most common cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds in England and Wales, so it’s vital depressed teenagers are identified and helped as soon as possible. Unfortunately, distinguishing the irritability, social withdrawal and cognitive decline of depression from the moodiness, ill-temper and laziness so typical of healthy adolescence is not the easiest of tasks. The question is, would it help to give teachers special training in how to recognise when a teenager is depressed?
Seventy-six teachers watched a specially-made video about adolescent depression, and they were also presented with a series of case vignettes about depressed pupils and the impact depression had on their behaviour at school.
An assessment of the teachers’ ability to identify which of their teenage pupils was depressed, was made before and after the special training. In total their were 1,911 pupils, 69 of whom were identified by the researchers as having major depression, based on self-report and clinical interview.
Before the training, the teachers correctly identified 52 per cent of the depressed pupils whereas afterwards they identified just 45 per cent – that is, they’d got worse! Even though their performance had deteriorated, the training left the teachers feeling more knowledgeable about depression and more confident that could they identify it.
A control group of teachers who didn’t receive the training identified 41 per cent in the first instance, and 43 per cent after the other teachers had completed their training.
“The negative results from this study add to the growing literature on the difficulties in demonstrating clear effects of interventions when robust evaluations are applied to such public health initiatives”, the researchers concluded.
Moor, S. Ann, M., Hester, M., Elisabeth, W.J., Robert, E., Robert, W. & Caroline, B. (2007). Improving the recognition of depression in adolescence: Can we teach the teachers? Journal of Adolescence, 30, 81-95.
Link to online help for depressed teenagers.