Mental health, depression and suicide


Inside story on the brain

Depression is a common illness. According to the World Health Organization, more than 350 million people experience it worldwide. But what happens in our brains when we feel unhappy?

Highly detailed MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans show areas of the brain literally lighting up when a person thinks about certain subjects.

For example, when they think about playing tennis, the same areas of the brain are activated as when they actually play the game.

This mapping of brain activity is invaluable in developing our understanding of how the brain works.

Neuroscientists have discovered that one of the areas of the brain most involved in mood control is the cingulate cortex, an inner layer of the brain.

When a sad - or possibly depressed - person was scanned, the front of the cingulate cortex was found to be very active and the back showed a reduction in activity. These findings were reversed in patients who had emerged from depression.

Further studies and research will reveal more about depression and its causes. But the issue provides a starting point for discussing how antidepressant drugs and other therapies can influence our moods.


Souls enwrapped in gloom

Many 19th-century Romantic poets battled personal tragedy and depression as they sought inspiration - John Keats and Lord Byron, for example.

Keats first trained to become a surgeon but was increasingly drawn to writing. He was not considered a great poet in his lifetime and much of his work received savage criticism. At times he grew restless, moody and lonely, writing in his poem To Hope that "hateful thoughts enwrap my soul in gloom". He died from tuberculosis at the age of 25.

Byron (pictured, in a painting by Giacomo Trecourt) also struggled with melancholy, penning poems that explored dark themes and the degradation of humankind.

Like Keats, who suffered several personal tragedies, including the deaths of his parents when he was a child, Byron's turmoil had identifiable causes.

His marriage to Anne Isabella Milbanke broke down in 1816, weeks after she gave birth to their daughter, Augusta Ada. He was accused of incest and sodomy, and doubts were expressed publicly about his sanity.

Byron abandoned England, vowing never to return. In 1824, he died from fever in Greece, where he had joined the fight for Greek independence.


Out of the darkness

Discussing mental health issues in the classroom can be difficult - and it is not always easy to spot students who are suffering.

Avoid showing your class graphic images of self-harm or eating disorders, as these can be a trigger for young people who already have problems in these areas.

Likewise, do not reveal too much detail about methods of suicide.

Keep the conversation as open and as honest as possible and try to address common myths. This helps to tackle the stigma attached to mental health issues.

Gather details of different helplines, leaflets or websites in case students request more information or advice.

Encourage your students to be supportive, non-judgemental, listening friends. But make sure that they understand the importance of sharing their concerns with a trusted adult so that appropriate support can be accessed.

For more information go to: bit.lymentalhealthsupport


- Help students to cope with bereavement using guidance from NHS Choices. bit.lynhschoices

- Television presenter and Lord Byron fan Miquita Oliver talks about the poet in this video from BBC Learning. bit.lyoliverbyron

- In Looplou13's lesson on happiness, students learn how setting "SMART" goals can help us to feel happy. bit.lymental wellbeing


- Analyse John Keats' poem To Autumn using johncallaghan's resource. bit.lyks3keats

- Dispel myths about mental illness and identify symptoms with lewishan78's lesson pack. bit.lymental illnessmyths

- Introduce your class to the basics of news writing in TESEnglish's activity. bit.lyNewsReport Writing

- EmmyCD's lesson considers how news stories are reported and why some are given more prominence than others. bit.lyNews Values.

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