Depression is a significant public health concern that places a heavy burden on people and society. In the Netherlands, around 700.000 adults and 37.000 adolescents (13-17 years) are diagnosed with a depressive disorder annually [1
]. During adolescence, the incidence of both depressive symptoms and disorder increases [2
]. At ages 9 to 10, 0.5% of all children suffer from a depressive disorder, which rises to 3.4% at ages 15 to 16 [6
]. At age 11, 10.0% experience depressive symptoms, at age 15 this has increased up to 24.5% [7
]. Symptoms of depressive disorder involve for example: loss of interest in activities, weight and sleep problems, negative thoughts about the self, and thoughts about death and harming the self [8
]. Across adolescence, girls are twice as likely as boys to report depressive symptoms and are at greater risk for developing a depressive disorder compared to boys [5
]. The risk for an episode of depressive disorder in adulthood sharply increases when having experienced elevated symptoms of depression during adolescence [9
], or when diagnosed with depressive disorder during adolescence [10
]. Depressive disorder often co-exists with anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional deviant disorder, and is related to substance use [11
]. In addition, depressive disorder is often associated with impairments in adolescents' school, family and social functioning [12
]. Moreover, depressive disorder is associated with high treatment costs [1
]. To conclude, there is a strong urge to prevent the onset of symptoms of depression and depressive disorder during adolescence.
Besides preventing the onset of aversive outcomes, adolescent functioning and development could be enhanced by promoting positive development. The Broaden and Build Theory posits that when experiencing positive emotions, people's thoughts and subsequent actions are expanded by becoming more creative and diverse when compared to experiencing negative emotions [14
]. By means of these broadened thoughts and actions, people encounter more learning experiences, which in turn facilitate people's cognitive, social, physiological, and psychological development. In addition, experiencing positive emotions can undo the cardiovascular arousal negative emotions cause, as described in the Undoing Hypothesis [15
]. It is therefore important to promote positive emotions in enhancing youth development. The importance of prevention and promotion of positive development in adolescence is also stressed by parents, teachers, and school principles. Research has shown that universal social emotional programs resulted in an improvement of academic performance, social and emotional skills, and in a reduction of conduct and internalizing problems [16
Early adolescence offers great opportunities for mental health promotion and the prevention of mental health problems. As the brain matures, young adolescents' social, emotional and cognitive systems are developing [17
], and the behavioral and cognitive systems develop at different rates [18
]. On the one hand this poses challenges for optimal functioning in adolescents, but on the other hand it provides great opportunities for mental health promotion. Considering that adolescents have not fully matured cognitively and emotionally, adolescence is a period in which cognitive biases, reactions to stress, and self-efficacy beliefs are malleable. This is important given that self-efficacy, coping with stress, and cognitive biases are strongly related to depressive disorder and related characteristics [19
]. Addressing self-efficacy, coping, and cognitive biases in depression prevention programs could promote youths' mental health and decrease the incidence of depressive symptoms and depressive disorder in adolescence.
Research shows that universal depression prevention programs can be effective in reducing depressive symptoms in adolescents [22
]. Stronger effects are found in targeted prevention compared to universal prevention, but in targeted prevention not all adolescents at risk are identified [24
]. In universal prevention the stigmatization effect associated with targeted prevention is no issue [25
], and all adolescents are reached. Various universal depression prevention programs exist [22
], but up till now, no universal depression prevention program has been empirically tested and implemented in the Netherlands. To fulfill this need, 'Op Volle Kracht' (OVK) was developed. OVK is a universal school-based depression prevention program for adolescents aged 12 to 14, that targets, among others, cognitive biases, coping skills and social skills. The theoretical basis of OVK is Cognitive-Behavioral Theory (CBT) of which the attendant therapy is known to effectively combat depression in adults [26
], and is promising in treating depression in adolescents [27
]. OVK is an adapted version of the Penn Resiliency Program (PRP), a U.S. depression prevention program that has shown to effectively prevent and decrease depressive symptoms in adolescents [28
]. Important cultural and content-related modifications have been made to make the program suitable for Dutch teenagers.
The present study will test the effectiveness of OVK in an adolescent Dutch population by means of a randomized controlled trial with follow-up assessments up to 24 months. In addition, mechanisms by which the program effects will be obtained will by studied as well. Scholars have tested the effectiveness of depression prevention programs [22
]. The mechanisms underlying program effects are still unknown. Identifying mediating factors can increase our understanding of resiliency development in youth, and could provide directions for improvements of prevention programs. In the prevention program 'Op Volle Kracht', different aspects are targeted that might function as mediating mechanisms in accomplishing prevention of depression. Research has shown that adolescents showing cognitive biases are at risk for developing a depressive disorder [21
]. Also, avoidant coping styles [29
], low social and academic self-efficacy [19
], and hopelessness are significant predictors of depressive symptoms in adolescents [31
]. Optimism has a preventive function, as higher levels of optimism predicted lower levels of depressive symptoms in adults [32
]. Hence, improving adolescents' cognitions, coping, self-efficacy, hopefulness and optimism may prevent the onset of depressive symptoms in adolescents and foster resilience.
Goals and hypotheses
The present study has three main goals: 1) Testing the effects of OVK in a Dutch adolescent population in limiting the increase of depressive symptoms during adolescence, 2) identifying mediating mechanisms that can explain program effects, and 3) testing the effects of OVK on secondary outcomes. It is hypothesized that OVK will be effective in preventing the increase in depressive symptoms in adolescence in the intervention condition during the 24 months following the program, in comparison to the control condition. In relation to identifying mediating mechanisms, it is hypothesized that OVK will lead to less cognitive biases, more adequate coping, higher self-efficacy, less hopelessness, and more optimism. Each of these constructs are hypothesized to lead to less (increase in) depressive symptoms; being mediators of the program effects on depressive symptoms. Secondary outcomes include anxiety, substance use, truancy, life satisfaction, happiness, friendship, school performance and school attitude.