Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
The main aim of this research was to determine whether learners aged 12 and 13 years in a primary school experience symptoms of depression. It is a well-known fact that today's learners often experience feelings of downheartedness. The experience of downheartedness may be of a temporary nature but Johnson (2004) warns that this emotion may lead to depression. This age group has been purposefully selected for this research because learners in this group are extremely vulnerable in terms of significant biological, cognitive and social changes. These learners are currently in Grade 7 which often is the highlight of their primary school career. Together with positive feelings, some of the learners might also experience feelings of fear for the secondary school that lies ahead. This dual state of emotions can cause great confusion in their minds. The occurrence of excitement and highlights combined with fear is called the "top-dog phenomenon". This phenomenon combined with the effects of biological changes can give rise to the occurrence of symptoms of depression. The increasing occurrence of depression amongst adolescents can be as high as 20 to 30 percent for diagnosable depressive disturbances (Berk 2003:197). This indicates that two to three out of every ten adolescents in the general population will probably experience depressive disturbances. The causes of depression are multiple, including a chemical imbalance in the brain, psychological factors, or a combination of the two. Hormonal changes, apathy and boredom, peer pressure, conflict with superiors, relationship problems, family problems, excessive worrying, school and examination stress, bullying, genetic causes and many more factors can cause depression. The more factors present in the learner's life, the greater the chances of him/her developing a mental disturbance. To diagnose depression successfully, a multi-dimensional approach with different modes, for example, clinical interviews or self-evaluation questionnaires and information from the parents and the learner him/herself should be taken. When diagnosing children and adolescents, it is very important to keep the different factors of the learners' developmental dimension in mind. Neglecting to identify or diagnose symptoms of depression in adolescence, can lead to the following behaviour: drug abuse, anti-social behaviour, restlessness, truancy, problems at school, promiscuity, decreased hygiene and an increase in sensitivity to rejection. It is furthermore important to realise that adolescents who have been diagnosed with depression run a greater risk of repeated episodes of depression. Symptoms of depression during adolescence give rise to such a severe feeling of hopelessness that it can be a trigger for and a forecast to suicide. The literature study that informed this study was verified by an empirical study where a standardised self-evaluation scale namely the Children's Depression Inventory (CDI) as well as a self-structured questionnaire were implemented. The results indicated that 10,8% of the respondents do meet the criteria for symptoms of depression. The biographical variables indicated significant correlations between symptoms of depression and gender, the relationship between the learners and their fathers and mothers, and the learners' feelings about the volume of tasks and homework with which they had to cope. Correlations were established also between symptoms of depression and bullying at school, and a strong correlation between depression and the learners' need to discuss their problems with someone. Because this research has indicated that a significant number of the involved learners most certainly do experience symptoms of depression, the researcher found it necessary to compile a set of guidelines on these symptoms. These guidelines were compiled from the literature to serve as warning signals for depression in early adolescence and can be of great assistance to educators and parents. The indication by learners that they do experience a great need for a person with whom they may discuss their problems, serves as a warning that any adult working with adolescents should heed.
Keywords : Depression; downheartedness; identification of depression; causes of depression; biological changes; psychological factors; learners; adolescents; primary school; self-evaluation questionnaire.