Building Resilience in At-Risk Adolescents: Comparing the mechanisms and outcomes of two school-based prevention programmes
This study sought to confirm and expand literature on psychological health by comparing and contrasting the effects of two prevention programmes, one focused on reducing negative affect and the other focused on enhancing positive affect, and by revealing possible pathways that might lead to increased wellbeing and resilience and reduced negative affect and depressive symptoms. Two school-based intervention approaches were examined: Kiwi ACE (Adolescents Coping with Emotions) and PAL (Positive Approaches to Life), to investigate which techniques would prevent the occurrence of depression, increase wellbeing, and help build resilience in Year 9 students (13-yr-olds). Kiwi ACE is a programme based on a CBT (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy) model and was trialled previously with success. PAL kept within the same structure as Kiwi ACE but used strategies aimed at building a capacity within students to develop positive emotions in order to build resources for present and future challenges. Both programmes aimed to build resilience and prevent the development of depression in at-risk adolescents. Nine schools from the wider Wellington region in New Zealand participated in the current study. Sixty-five students identified as at-risk, participated in one of the two programmes, and 69 students constituted the control group. All students in the current study were at risk of developing depression, pre-intervention, as suggested by a mild-moderate score on the CDI (Children's Depression Inventory). Both programmes consisted of weekly one hour sessions enacted over 12 weeks during which a group of approximately 10 students met with a clinical psychologist and school counsellor. A survey consisting of a range of scales, measured students' scores pre- and post- programme, at six months and one year after the programme was completed. Kiwi ACE and PAL both decreased depressive symptoms and increased well-being for up to one year after the programme. However, PAL had stronger effects in promoting gratitude, satisfaction with life, happiness, and resilience. Mediation analysis revealed that Kiwi ACE helped to decrease depressive symptoms by increasing students' sense of environmental mastery and increased students' well-being scores by decreasing the intensity and frequency of participants’ negative emotions. In contrast, PAL helped to decrease depressive symptoms, and increase well-being and resilience through many routes, namely through increasing gratitude, meaning, happiness and satisfaction with life. The findings of this study reveal that building a capacity for positive emotions can help develop many resources that protect students from depressive symptoms and increase their psychological well-being and personal resilience. In addition, using positive emotions as a resource is equally effective as using CBT strategies in preventing depression and is more effective in increasing positive outcomes, including personal resilience. Finally the results from PAL indicate that cultivating positive emotions such as gratitude and happiness is an effective way to build personal resilience in adolescence.