Teen Depression

Not sure the title is appropriate given that yesterday’s news reports mental health checks of three year olds, and children as young as eight are suffering depressive disorders. I noticed the name of the child psychiatrist quoted, for some years ago in an address to a national audience in the Blue Mountains, I quoted the psychiatrist’s research into an increasingly common disorder among young people, a form of depression known as ‘dysthemia’.

The symptoms present a challenge to parents:

  • innattentiveness
  • poor organisational skills

and behaviours that are:

  • aggressive
  • contrary
  • oppositional and
  • defiant

Parents, of course, are not the only ones challenged by this less-than-ideal set of attributes. Teachers have to deal with the disrupted learning environment caused by such behaviours, and health professionals, if the young people consent to seeing them, are usually faced with resistance to the normal therapeutic interventions. Research shows there are perceptions of major barriers in the minds of young people to getting help – they just don’t want to appear different to their peers, or acknowledge to their families they need help.

If parents are the closest ‘significant others’ to the problem, the notion of skilling them to firstly understand what is going on in the child’s interaction with their environment to result in unmet needs; and secondly have simple and effective techniques to develop emotional resilience makes a lot of sense.

The question of course is how. My response to this question is to point to the most amazing skill development any of us have ever undertaken: learning to walk and communicate, each without formal training. This learning model is better understood now, and surprisingly enough, examining how young people play computer games has given us strategies that can be used where traditional teaching does not work. One such situation where teaching fails is dealing with teen depression, and their lack of acknowledgement – largely because there is so much change going on in their emotional, physical, social development – is a big factor in this.

Three vital characteristics raise the prospect of natural learning:

  • the learning takes place in a wider context
  • the learner is emotionally engaged
  • the prospect of failure is removed

Currently, I have a group of young people well practiced in the above behaviours immersed in a project designed with these three characteristics at its core. And, I have a group of parents who have completed a one-day workshop on the Human Givens approach and are working through eight online modules. For both groups, the wider context is they are being treated ‘as if’ they are experienced, qualified, professionals (called a ‘persona’ from our understanding of computer game skills). This context promotes emotional engagement, removes fear of failure, and allows for learning by ‘stealth’ – another aspect of gaming.

It is the first time this award-winning learning model has been used outside schools, and indications thus far are exciting to say the least. Watch this space.

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Merv was a teacher, trainer and therapist using the Human Givens approach to emotional health. He is the first Australian qualified in this revolutionary treatment method, and since retiring from private practice, spreads his time between running an online course in psychotherapy and sailing his yacht.

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