Research Watch: Preventing and Treating Depression Without Drugs
Mary Ann Moon
Clinical Psychiatry News 28(5): p. 29,
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Instilling optimism and teaching kids to have more positive thoughts can prevent depression years later, according to two long-term studies of young adults and children in the U.S., recently described by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., at a meeting sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Seligman uses “positive psychology” to enhance optimism, courage, honesty, self-understanding and interpersonal skills, instead of focusing on the damage of past traumas. Seligman is one of the country’s foremost researchers on depression, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and former president of the American Psychological Association.
The goal is to use inner resources as a buffer against setbacks in life, so that the individual does not become depressed, according to Seligman. “It’s not about how to heal; it’s about how to have a great life,” he explained. If you think that failures “last forever and undermine everything you try to do — you’ll get depressed” according to Seligman. “But if you can view them as temporary or affecting only a small part of your life, you won’t get depressed.”
One study is based on questionnaires given to students who were admitted to the university. The students who scored in the lowest quartile for optimism were randomly assigned either to a workshop to develop skills to boost their optimism, or to no treatment. The students were taught to recognize their own negative thoughts about themselves and to argue against these thoughts as though they were from an external critic.
The 126 students who participated in the workshops and the 119 students who were not enrolled in the workshops were then followed up for 8-to-10 years. Those who participated in the workshops in college were half as likely to have episodes of moderate depression (13 percent) compared to students who were not given the opportunity to participate (27 percent). The students who participated in the workshops were also half as likely to have anxiety disorders, compared with the other students.
In a second study, Seligman and his associates offered similar workshops for 67 10- to 12-year-old children who had symptoms of mild depression, and compared them to 47 similar children who were not offered the workshops. Two years later, half as many children who attended the workshops were mildly or moderately depressed (22 percent) compared to 44 percent of those who were not offered the workshops.
In a third study, University of Pennsylvania researcher Dr. David Yu reported similar results three months after offering similar workshops to 104 10- to 12-year-olds in Beijing, comparing them with 116 children who did not attend the workshops.
Seligman points to the studies as proof that it is possible to prevent depression from developing in school-age children and college students, and that the skills learned will continue to help kids for years afterwards. In contrast, most drug studies evaluate patients for a relatively short period of time.
Zuckerman, Diana. "Preventing and Treating Depression Without Drugs." Research Watch review of "Positive Psychology Halved Depression in Kids". Youth Today, July/August 2000, p. 14 - 15.
©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.