Increasing Self-Empowerment Related to Depression among Court-Involved Youth: The Moods Matter Project

Article excerpt

Increasing Self-Empowerment related to Depression among Court-Involved Youth: The Moods Matter Project

One of the most prevalent and serious mental health disorders among adolescents is depression. In fact, the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated the lifetime prevalence rate of depression among adolescents at 14% (Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2005). Three to eight percent of adolescents are diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder making it more common among this age group than other chronic childhood disorder, including asthma (Jackson & Lurie, 2006). Since adolescent depression does not typically occur in isolation, depressed adolescents are at greater risk of co-morbid issues such as substance abuse, educational challenges, problems with social relationships, and conduct disorders (Zalsman, Brent, & Weersing, 2006). Moreover, suicide, a byproduct of depression, is the third leading cause of death among individuals 15-24 years of age in the United States (Kochanek, Murphy, Anderson, & Scott, 2004). For court-involved youth, the prevalence of depression and other mental health disorders is even greater. In fact, approximately 40-85% of children within the child welfare system suffer from one or more mental health disorders (Austin, 2005) and between 65-70% of youth in the juvenile justice system meet the criteria for a mental health disorder (Skowyra & Cocozza, 2006) including depression.

The disproportionate incidence of depression among court-involved youth indicates the need for specific interventions designed to meet the needs of this special population. However, whereas several evidence-based practices to prevent depression have been developed in recent years (Garber, Clarke, & Weersing, 2009; Gillham, Reivich, Jaycox, Seligman, & Silver, 1990; Mufson, et al.,2004; Spence, Sheffield, & Donovan, 2005 ), none have been designed to specifically address the unique needs of court-involved youth. Namely, studies must be designed to address needs related to adolescents with limited, if any, social and family supports, and challenges related to the brief periods of time available to intervene with this population. In response to these needs, the Moods Matter project, a brief cognitive behaviorally-based group intervention was designed to increase knowledge and resources related to depression to promote self-sufficiency and empowerment.

Literature Review

Depression among Court-Involved Youth

The increased risk for depression associated with court-involved adolescents is often due to exposure to early trauma (Birhmaher, et al., 2001). In fact, Garber and Flynn (2001) found that individuals with a history of child maltreatment might adopt a negatively skewed cognitive style as a result of the experience of early trauma. As a result, these individuals may possess a cognitive schema that tends to interpret events in a manner that promotes self-blame and negativity, and a sense that the glass is half empty rather than half full. This endorsement of such a negatively skewed cognitive style is thought to contribute to the risk of subsequent depression.

Furthermore, this type of environmental conditioning or sensitization to depression appears to place individuals that were exposed to adversity at an early age at disproportionate risk for chronic depression following life challenges of varying degrees (Monroe & Harkness, 2005; Harkness, Bruce, & Lumley, 2006). As a result, these individuals may be conditioned to continuously interpret events, regardless of their realistic severity, as overwhelming, and thus, experience feelings of helplessness that further contribute to their depression. Additionally, individuals with a history of child maltreatment may experience shorter times of wellness in between depressive episodes (Harkness, et. al., 2006). Thus, the chronic nature of depression compounded by only brief reprieves experienced by these individuals may place them at significant risk of sustaining adequate functional ability, and living healthy, full lives. …