WHEN high school student Anika Wignall committed suicide in 2004 after a struggle with depression, her family set up a foundation to support research into adolescent depression.
As part of this year's New South Wales Premier Awards, it funded the Anika Foundation Youth Depression Awareness Scholarship, which has been awarded to Dan Haesler, a PDHPE teacher and Head of House from Emanuel School, Randwick and Karen Spitzer, the school counsellor at North Sydney Girls High School.
Each teacher received $15,000 to pay for training, tours of schools, conferences, or time to create education programs about depression. Both teachers are focusing on positive psychology in their work - a strand that focuses on the things that are going well in students' lives and tries to build resilience before depression strikes.
"What I wanted to do was to gather information and broaden the knowledge base about social emotional learning programs that are used both in Australia [and] the European Union, and to devise and implement a social emotional learning program that was suitable here at North Sydney Girls, and then to offer training in these programs to interested high schools and counsellors within our region," Spitzer says.
"I'm excited about learning ... and also giving high school teachers the keys to working with kids, and be on the lookout, because the World Health Organisation says that by 2020 depression will be the second most debilitating condition in the developed world," Spitzer says.
Haesler has a five-week study tour of the UK, USA and Canada planned, with visits to schools successfully implementing the principles of positive psychology. He will also meet with leading academics in the field, including Howard Cutler - who co-authored The Art of Happiness with the Dalai Lama.
Haesler is trying to look past the most obvious areas to incorporate positive psychology in the curriculum and instead find ways to break down perception barriers that teachers have about using the theory in the curriculum. He will be blogging at www.danhaesler.com about his experiences and findings.
"I give great thanks to the Anika Foundation... I'm very grateful to the family that they've got the resilience to help others so hopefully no other teenager will [commit suicide]," Spitzer says.