Rogers Behavioral Health

Re-engaging in what you used to enjoy can ease depression

Posted on 03/15/18 07:41:pm using behavioral activation to treat children and teens with depression

Depression comes with the side effect of making people less interested in activities that used to make them happy, such as hanging out with friends, going for walks, and reading. Sometimes, the best way to fight back against depression is to do exactly what you don’t want to do.

Behavioral activation is a form of therapy that asks people to engage in life by doing the things that they need to do and enjoy doing in order to find diverse and stable sources of reinforcement, according to Heather Jones, PhD, supervising psychologist for Rogers’ FOCUS Adolescent Mood Disorders Program. Dr. Jones teaches families of Rogers’ patients about behavioral activation and other topics in what is known as Parent University.

How does behavioral activation work?

Depressed people typically lose interest in activities, isolate themselves more, and stop taking care of themselves. Another way to look at this is that they’re engaging in avoidance. However, if one avoids studying or putting effort into school because of a bad test score, they’re unlikely to see a more positive result. This eventually becomes a cycle of avoidance that needs to be broken.

Dr. Jones says that behavioral activation shows a lot of promise when treating children and adolescents.

“I think it makes sense to them,” Dr. Jones says. “And sometimes coming into treatment can be pretty overwhelming and scary, so to be presented with a treatment strategy that is common sense, I think is helpful in reducing the fear and anxiety about what they’re going to be asked to do.”

How long does it take Behavioral Activation to work?

Depression doesn’t typically happen overnight. Instead, the change takes time and occurs in reaction to a negative life even or series of negative life events. As nice as it would be to instantly reverse the damage that depression causes, the healing process takes time.

“Depression, unfortunately, has to be undone as incrementally as it developed,” Dr. Jones says. “In our program we have about a 45 to 60 day length of stay and we are able to make some headway, but there is still follow-up and additional treatment needed to change these patterns of avoidance.”

Incremental steps toward the desired behavior is what works best and is something parents need to keep in mind, according to Dr. Jones. If a child is avoiding going to school, the ultimate goal is to get them in school every day and engaged in extracurricular activities. She says in cases like this, going into school for an hour and building up from there is a good place to start.

“A common mistake some parents make is expecting too much too soon or taking on too much,” she says.

Find multiple positive activities for behavioral activation

Taking the time to shower and go to school are important for development and for mental health. If a child or teen is spending all day doing something like playing video games instead of these essential activities, the risk for depression increases.

“If I’m playing a lot of video games and falling into this pattern of avoidance, then I’m not taking the time to attend to activities of daily living like showering, eating regularly, leaving the house, and seeing friends,” Dr. Jones says. “In the short term, I might be distracted by the games, but this leads to increased feelings of depression in the long term because I’ve sat around all day without getting anything productive done.”

Whether it’s gaming, reading, or any other hobby, it’s important to find the right balance rather than spending too much time only doing one thing. Having multiple hobbies or activities that you can invest your time in is best.

“It’s like the saying of ‘everything in moderation.’ Whether I’m playing games for 10 hours a day, reading for 10 hours a day, or sleeping for 20 hours a day—it’s all too much,” Dr. Jones says. “It’s important to be mindful not to put all your eggs in one basket. So if you have a new hobby that’s providing enjoyment, that’s awesome, but be careful not to sacrifice other activities in order to do it.”


Share this article:

Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.