Break Free from Depression is a project within the Children's Hospital Neighborhood Partnerships in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Children's Hospital.
Break Free from Depression is a 4-module curriculum focused on increasing awareness around adolescent depression and it is designed for use in high school classrooms. The goals are to increase adolescents’ awareness about depression, teach them how to recognize it in themselves and in their friends, and give them strategies for finding help. Along with educational material and discussion oriented modules, it features a compelling documentary that focuses on a diverse group of adolescents talking about their struggles with depression and suicide. We learn of their symptoms, the course of their illness, and the methods they use for coping through their own words as they are not actors and the documentary is not scripted. The documentary also addresses hope- the adolescents also discuss ways they find help and relief as well as the daily skills that help them manage their depression. The curriculum also includes materials for parent and staff workshops about adolescent depression.
The manual for the curriculum contains all of the materials needed and includes step-by-step directions, handouts, resources, and all of the presentations for the student curriculum, parent workshop, and staff development workshop.
We would like to thank the Sydney A. Swensrud Foundation for their generous support of this project.
The documentary (running time 36 minutes) focuses solely on the stories and lives of diverse adolescents as they currently struggle with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. We learn of their symptoms, the course of their illness, and the methods they use for coping through their own words, rather than through expert narrative. We chose this story telling technique so that youth are able to learn about symptoms and recognize their impact through their peers’ own words. Finally, the documentary also addresses hope. The adolescents in the film do not only share their distress, but also ways they found help and relief, and the skills they have learned to mange their depression.
One such story is that of Igor, an 18-year-old Haitian American young man. During a period of over one year, the documentary follows Igor, and we hear of his long struggle with depression, about his history of loss and adversity, his suicide attempt and how he has learned to cope. We also meet Caroline, a 19-year-old young woman with a history of depression, anxiety, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts. While Caroline's external struggles are significantly different from Igor's, their internal battles with depression are strikingly similar. We also meet many other adolescents, their friends, and family members, who like Igor and Caroline, come from varied backgrounds and circumstances, but are tied by a similar experience of growing up struggling with depression.
This module provides students with an overview of depression and suicide, including specific facts and statistical information as well as signs and symptoms of depression. While students might have general ideas about the disorder, they may have inaccurate information, or may significantly under or overestimate statistics associated with it. The information in this section can be used to initiate conversations, provide accurate facts, and to respond to particular student questions. This module is presented prior to viewing the documentary in order for all students to have a foundation of knowledge before they are introduced to the real-life narratives of other adolescents.
During this module, students view the documentary “Breaking Free From Depression.” The documentary is divided into the following sections: stigma, risk factors, symptoms of depression, anxiety and internal thoughts, suicide, and coping. The documentary features adolescents and young adults who either struggled or are currently struggling with depression. They are not actors and their words were not scripted. The module ends with a debriefing activity and time for questions.
During this module, students engage in a case based discussion where they focus on particular individuals featured on the documentary. This in-depth discussion allows students more time to review topics such as treatment, symptoms, as well as how and where to access help. Students are also given information on the warning signs of suicide and engaged in a discussion around different issues that are linked with depression. The module also includes a conversation about resources available and the curriculum includes a handout with resources and places to contact for help.
This module is focused on strategies to ask for help for themselves or for a friend. They are engaged in activities that help them identify trusted adults, how to access help in the school or community, how to approach someone they are concerned about, and brainstorming coping skills that they can use on a regular basis. There are opportunities for role plays, read-alouds, and other activities focused on developing strategies and language for asking for help.