Depression Tool Kit
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Lesson 2 | Enrichment Activity

The Scientific Understanding of Depression

"Teachers: Nikki neuron reminds you to check the standards tables in the front of the toolkit to see which ones apply for this lesson and your subject area."


Current Events

Student Objectives:

■ Understand that many variables interact to produce mental illness and mental wellness.

■ Be able to discuss their own behavior and that of others in terms of many interacting influences.
Estimated time: One 50-minute class period.

Articles from magazines, newspapers or the Internet, television programs or other media reports about mental illness or other aspects of human behavior are good starting points for class discussions.

Ask students to bring in article clippings or other material describing some specific mental illness or human behavior. Discuss possible causes of the featured behavior or illness, encouraging reflection on the relative impact of various factors, e.g. environment, learning, cultural attitudes and beliefs, biology, genetics, and brain function, on behavior and mental health.


Student Objectives:
■ Understand that many variables interact to produce mental illness and mental wellness.

■ Be able to express their ideas about mental illness by working together to make a collage.

Estimated time: One 50-minute period.

Materials: Magazine and newspaper clippings and other graphic materials.


■ Students create a collage illustrating the interaction of biological and psychosocial variables that affect human behavior. The collage should include images, words, and phrases to elucidate the concepts presented in the lesson.

■ Students should be encouraged to reflect on not only what they have learned from the lesson, but also their own life experiences in selecting images and words to express what they believe contributes to mental wellness or illness. They should think about the many factors mentioned in the lesson that can have a bearing on one’s state of mind: genetics, injury, medical illness, family life, the neighborhoods we live in, our network of social support, learned behaviors and ways of thinking about ourselves, relationships, finances, work, poverty and unemployment, violence and other traumas, and so on.


Student Objectives:
■ Learn about theorists that have had a significant impact on scientific and popular thinking about the causes of human behavior and mental illness.

■ Be able to situate the lives of these thinkers in an historical and cultural context.

Estimated time: One 50-minute period (after initial work is done as homework); otherwise, two 50-minute or one 90-minute period.

Materials and resources: Handouts, web sites, and library.

■ Students individually or in groups research theorists or schools of thought that have influenced thinking about human behavior and mental illness. Findings will be the basis for class presentations and the creation of a timeline by the class as a whole for classroom display. Students should be prepared to talk about how the theorist or school’s ideas shaped thinking about human behavior, how the ideas relate to the nature-nurture model, and how a theorist or school was influenced by its culture and historical time period.
University of Arkansas, Board of Trustees © 2002. All rights reserved. 2-7

■ The list below will help the class get started on their research, but there are many other possibilities. Don’t limit the list to psychology, but consider other disciplines mentioned in the lesson. Some influential thinkers may not be household names, but curiosity and effort may yield some interesting findings.

Rene’ Descartes
Phillippe Pinel
Wilheim Wundt
Lightner Witmer
William James

Clifford Beers
Ivan Pavlov
Sigmund Freud
Jean Piaget
B.F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Martin Seligman
Aaron Beck



Hilgard E, Atkinson R, Atkinson R. Introduction to Psychology, 7th ed. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 1979.

Hergenhanhn B. An Introduction to the History of Psychology, 3rd ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole; 1997.

Brennan J. History and Systems of Psychology, 5th ed. Upper Saddle Hill, NJ: Prentice Hall; 1998.

Kaplan H, Sadock B. Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 4th ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams, and Wilkins; 1985. working)

Research Design Team Workshop

Student Objectives:

■ Learn about the scientific method and basic elements of research: defining a problem, formulating a hypothesis, determining variables of interest, and establishing experimental and control groups.
■ Discover that behavioral research can be interesting, challenging and fun.
■ Look at some aspect of human behavior in a controlled and scientific fashion.

Estimated time: One 50-minute period.


■ In this exercise, no experiment is actually conducted, but the teacher leads students through a discussion about aspects of a research problem, the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed experimental design, and outcomes expected were the experiment to be implemented.
■ Read the following to the class: A researcher has two groups of 50 subjects each, one ages 15 to 30 years old and another, ages 45 to 60 years old. Each subject will sit in a room alone and listen to an audiotape of this story about a boy named Bill:

Bill is a 15-year-old boy in the 9th grade who is making poor grades this year. He appears to lack interest in his classes and doesn’t seem to try very hard to complete his assignments or make good grades. Sometimes, Bill gets into trouble in class for not paying attention or for not trying, and when he is criticized by the teacher, he often “blow ups,” becoming very angry. Bill has only a few friends, and he doesn’t spend much time with them, and when he does, he often is irritable and winds up getting into arguments with them. He feels his parents don’t understand him. He spends a lot of time in his room and often skips meals (enough to have lost a couple of pounds recently), preferring to listen to music in his room rather than eat with the family. He and his mother argue a lot over various things, including the need for him to clean his room. He has problems getting to sleep at a regular time and has great difficulty getting up in the morning when his father tries to waken him. He thinks most adults are stupid and, for that matter, so are most things going on in the world. Sometimes he feels he’s not much better, either, feeling mostly just empty.

■ Continue reading instructions to class: After listening to the story, each subject is asked to rate which of the following statements most accurately describes Bill’s behavior: 1) Bill is depressed and would benefit from treatment; 2) Bill is a normal teenager and just needs time to grow up; 3) Bill is a bad kid who would do better with more discipline.

Points for class discussion:

■ What is the question that this experiment is designed to answer? What would the hypothesis be? (One possibility: Interpretations of troubled
behavior will vary with age of respondent.)
■ Would the groups interpret Bill’s behavior similarly, or would there be significant differences? Why? Would the younger group be more likely to see Bill as depressed, and the older group more likely to see Bill as needing discipline? How do the students in the class explain Bill’s behavior?
■ Explain that this story was constructed so that more information would be needed to make a definite decision about which category Bill falls into: The story is entirely consistent with the possibility that Bill is depressed, but other factors could also explain Bill’s behavior. Ask the students to review the symptoms of depression and then discuss how his behavior exhibits some of these symptoms. How many students think Bill could just be a normal teenager?

Internet Research

There are many insightful articles on the World Wide Web about how genetic, biological, psychological and environmental variables interaction to produce mental illness. Go to the PIBHS web site ( for suggested links or visit: