"Preventing cardiovascular disease is very normal, why not depression too?"

A study by PhD student Karlijn Heesen (Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences) won an important award for research that contributes to suicide prevention even before she completed her dissertation. One of her research projects was STORM (Strong Teens and Resilient Minds), an approach aimed at preventing depression in young people. The findings are so overwhelming that politicians now want to introduce STORM nationwide.

A structural approach is lacking

It's a harsh reality, but among young people suicide is the main cause of death and the impact on the environment is very serious. Fortunately, a lot has changed in recent years. The topic has increasingly been removed from the taboo-sphere and the importance of depression prevention is widely supported. Yet, according to the researcher, a structural approach that focuses on prevention is still lacking. "Previous initiatives were often implemented temporarily and ended up in a drawer again due to lack of money. It is difficult to implement prevention programmes sustainably."

Strong decrease of depression

The STORM approach, which has been implemented in North-East Brabant, should change this. The Municipal Health Service screens all second graders at participating schools for depression and suicidality annually. Young people with acute suicidality are referred for treatment. The young people with depressive symptoms are offered the prevention programme 'Op Volle Kracht'. The program is a short-term group training using techniques derived from cognitive behavioural therapy. Heesen's research clearly demonstrates that STORM works: depressive symptoms decreased up to one year after following the training, as demonstrated by the most significant study in her thesis. Moreover, anxiety symptoms decreased, an important finding because the combination of depressive and anxiety symptoms can cause a more serious clinical picture.

"The paper was published in the highly reputable BMC Medicine," she says. STORM did not go unnoticed outside the scientific world either. Her research won the first Jan Mokkenstorm Prize (named after the founder of 113 Suicide Prevention) for pioneering research that contributes to reducing suicides. "When I shared my thesis via Linkedin, it got a bit out of hand and I was approached from all corners of the world ranging from schools, politics to mental health services."

And the success story continues. State Secretary Paul Blokhuis (Public Health, Welfare and Sport) has expressed the ambition to introduce STORM nationally. First, four municipalities will be selected to serve as models. But what makes the STORM approach so successful? According to Heesen, it has everything to do with intensive cooperation between, for example, the Municipal Health Service (which conducts the screening), municipalities, neighbourhood teams and the Community Health Service (GGZ), which trains trainers, among other things. Sharing responsibility is the key here: "Schools are very busy and wonder if they should also take up depression prevention. If you can do it together it feels lighter, you go from powerlessness to decisiveness."

More information

On September 30th, Karlijn Heesen will defend her dissertation 'Learn to dance in the storm: Prevention of depression in adolescents' at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

You can talk about suicide at the national helpline 113 Suicide Prevention. Phone number: 0800-0113 or www.113.nl.” Read more about the STORM approach here. 

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