Making Friends with the Aussies

19th October 2007 at 01:00
An Australian programme designed to treat and prevent anxiety and depression in children is being rolled out across Scotland.

After the October break, pupils from two primary and two secondary schools in Stirling will take part in trials to see if a cognitive-behavioural therapy programme, known as Friends, is suitable for Scotland. However, so confident are members of Stirling Council's psychological services that Friends will work, they have already begun the training process. Over the next three years, they aim to have around 1,000 practitioners across Scotland.

Like all CBT programmes, Friends works on the basis that "how you think impacts upon the way you feel".

Susan Macmillan, research assistant for the Stirling pilot, said: "The programme is about the children identifying any negative thoughts they have and getting them to change them into positive thoughts - the glass is half-full, as opposed to half-empty. It also helps them develop coping mechanisms. If they get anxious, they put together a step-by-step plan and identify people who can help them along the way - friends, peers or family."

Friends has been assessed in several countries over the past decade. The research shows that up to 80 per cent of children with signs of an anxiety disorder no longer displayed that disorder after completing the programme. This effect has been confirmed up to six years after treatment. Friends has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation, which found it to be "efficacious across the entire spectrum, as a universal prevention program, as a targeted prevention program and as a treatment".

The Stirling team hopes its pilot will add to the body of research into Friends. Educational psychologist Deborah Lee said: "We know that if children are anxious, it has a significant impact on their relationships with others. But the literature so far hasn't looked at the programme's impact on peer interactions or pupilclass teacher interactions."

Stirling Council's psychological services has received pound;50,000 from the Scottish Government and guaranteed its support for three years.

The developers of the programme argue: "If left untreated, childhood anxiety may develop over the years into chronic adult anxiety disorders or, in some cases, clinical depression that may lead to suicidal thoughts.

"It is therefore crucial that anxiety prevention begins early, and that health and education professionals are equipped with the resources to help children and their families develop effective strategies to deal with worry, stress and change."

It is estimated by the Mental Health Foundation that rates of depression and anxiety among young people have increased by 70 per cent in the past 25 years.

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