Depression in Teenagers and Perceptual Positions

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.” ― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

I listened to a recent radio programme that talked about the top issues facing teenagers today. As a parent to two teenage girls (plus the 10’s that are extended members of the family and frequently stay), I get to see first hand the pressures that they face. Apart from the normal teen issues of relationships, drugs and alcohol, one of the biggest issues they face is the constant need to look and feel good. This, plus all the other issues means that depression in teenagers is on the increase. Some interesting facts:

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class
  • Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm
  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression
  • Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression
  • 72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society (7).
  • 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder
  • The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s

Depression needs to be taken seriously and treated properly by professionals and I certainly would not make suggestions on how to treat depression itself.

However, what I can help with is how people engage and talk to one another. Over a recent extended evening meal with the girls and their friends, the conversation turned to how to engage with people in difficult and challenging situations that can lead to depression. There is a skilled technique you can use to help people work through issues. It’s called Perceptual Positions, the skill of adopting more points of view than your own in an organized way. So why use this technique?:

# It improves your understanding of yourself and how you interact with other people.

# It enables you to think more flexibly and creatively, especially when confronted by difficult situations.

# It provides an opportunity to stand back and consider issues dispassionately without taking sides

# Helps you appreciate the influence of your verbal and nonverbal behaviour on others, and the influence of their behaviour on you.

So we discussed how to do the 3 position model and this is the summary…..

1st Perspective

This is what everyone does, you see the situation through your own eyes. The issue is you do not consider the others needs. you  are selfish, even to yourself. Run through the issue or interaction. Pay attention to your own thoughts and feelings. Consider your own needs.

2nd Perspective

Imagine what it is like to be the other person. Put yourself in their shoes – as if you are looking back at yourself, seeing, hearing, and feeling as the other person. How is ‘you over there’ coming across to “you over here”? Are you in rapport with you? Are they respecting you? Is he/she taking your views into account? Are you listening or just verbalising your own needs?

3rd Perspective

Take a detached viewpoint. This is THE most difficult position to take and takes practice to do. Imagine you are looking at yourself and the other person ‘over there’ – seeing the two of them speaking, articulating, facial expressions, etc. Pay particular attention to nonverbal behaviour such as the body language and the sound of their voices. Then consider, as a result of taking this view, what advice you wish to give ‘yourself’ about how you are handling the situation.

The 2nd Time Round

Now repeat the process using the insights and advice from the Round 1. Run through it with the new behaviours – first as yourself, then as the other person, and finally the detached 3rd view.

Finally, think of upcoming events in which these insights may be useful. Mentally run through these while imagining that you are incorporating your new learning. You will suddenly begin to realise that in most of the situations you were in before, you were acting in 1st position, maybe, sometimes in 2nd, but very rarely in 3rd.

Try it, you might be positively surprised at the results…..

Further information on depression in Teenagers:

I leave you with the following quote:

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”  Stephen Fry

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