Before I get into the specifics of my project and how the pandemic has impacted mental health and caused an uptick in depression in teenagers, I’ve compiled a list of resources for anyone struggling with any kind of mental health issues. You are loved and needed.

Click here to see the list of resources.

Symptoms of Depression

According to the Child Mind Institute, some of the symptoms of depression include:

These symptoms are most alarming when they persist. For example, a change in sleep patterns for a night or two at random is probably not a cause for alarm, but a constant change in sleep patterns along with other symptoms is worrying. However, these symptoms can also be easy to miss and easily overlooked. It can be difficult for family members and close friends to identify, but it can also be hard for the person experiencing these symptoms to recognize.

If it’s here today but they’re okay tomorrow, that to me is not a cause for concern. What’s more of a concern is when it persists. You want to be on the lookout for changes in sleep, mood, appetite, and general engagement.

Rachel Busman, PsyD

How Gratitude Helps Depression

There have been many studies done on the impacts of gratitude on various mental health conditions, including how it affects depression. As a part of an assignment for my positive psychology class, we researched the neuroscience of gratitude. Here are some of the benefits of gratitude and the neuroscience research to prove those benefits, according to

  1. Gratitude releases toxic emotions; the hippocampus and the amygdala are activated. The hippocampus and the amygdala are the two main parts of the brain that regulate emotions, memory, and bodily functions.
  2. Gratitude reduces pain; regulates the level of dopamine. In the study Counting Blessings vs Burdens (2003), 16% of patients who kept a gratitude journal reported reduced symptoms of pain and were more willing to work with their treatment plan.
  3. Gratitude improves the quality of sleep; hypothalamic reduction. The hypothalamus controls body mechanisms like sleep and is triggered during gratitude practices.
  4. Gratitude aids in stress regulation; reduces the level of cortisol in the brain. In a study done by McCraty and colleagues (1998), participants who practiced gratitude had a decrease in the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol.
  5. Gratitude reduces anxiety and depression; reduces stress and manages the functions of the autonomic nervous system. With gratitude comes an increase of the neural modulation in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is in charge of negative emotions such as shame, guilt, and violence.

I’ve found that there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you.

Anne Frank

How Theater Helps Depression

It was harder to find scientific studies to support how the performing arts can be beneficial to mental health, but there were a lot of personal accounts of how theater has saved people’s lives. The theater is just like any other creative outlet, and here are some of the benefits of it according to Reset Brain and Body:

  1. Creativity increases happiness; improves and reduces negative emotions. Creativity gives us something to focus on, much like gratitude, and can positively impact our mood.
  2. Encourages real-life interactions; creates a positive social setting to build important social skills. While the pandemic has impacted the number of face-to-face interactions, those interactions promote community and belonging, which can also increase one’s mood and decrease depression.
  3. Builds confidence; builds coping skills to reduce anxiety. The performing arts create a safe space that encourages people to be vulnerable in a non-judgemental environment, which requires actors to face their anxiety.
  4. Safe space to share emotions; offers a safe environment. Much like the previous point, performers can release their emotions in a healthy way that promotes positive mental health coping skills.
  5. The arts help us all; creates emotional healing. The performing arts are not only beneficial to the performers but the audience as well. Performance allows one to get out of their head and focus on something creative, like a play or musical.

I’ve made some of my closest friends through theater productions, people that I feel safe with, and who encourage me to be vulnerable around them. In my experience, the theater is (typically) a non-judgemental community that takes in people, flaws included. While theater might not be the right outlet for everyone, experimenting with healthy coping mechanisms can lead to finding the one that works.

The purpose of theatre is to put the audience in a better position to understand the world around them.

Mark Fortier

Things to Encourage Engagement

People who suffer from depression tend to experience a lack of wanting to engage in activities that they once loved. Even if they want to participate, it might seem like an impossible task in their mind. While gratitude and theater can be used to reduce symptoms of depression, both of these activities require engagement, so it’s essential to help encourage your loved one to be present. From the Child Mind Institute, here are a few things that you can do:

These steps can also be implemented in people without depression to help prevent symptoms from developing in the future. Also, encourage people to find healthy coping mechanisms. Pay attention to your loved ones and check in on them every so often. One thing I’ve learned from working on producing ‘Night, Mother is that struggles with mental health look different on everyone, and no one truly knows what’s going on in someone else’s mind, so it’s crucial to let your loved ones know that they are valued and supported, no matter what you interpret their mental situation to be.

There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

John Green

Taking Action

If you’re comfortable, share below the (healthy) coping mechanism you use most often and/or find the most effective. Do you practice gratitude? Have you ever tried being a part of the performing arts, or do you enjoy being an audience member? How can you be a better supporter of your loved ones who might be struggling in silence?

I appreciate you all taking the time out of your day to view my project. This is something that is very near and dear to my heart, so it feels really satisfying to have it out to the public with the possibility of helping someone else. 

Remember: you are loved, valued, and needed in this world. Once again, here is a list of mental health resources if you or someone you know is struggling.

Works Cited


  1. This is a great way to showcase how even when people are depressed they can have moments of happiness and joy. And not everyone shows depression the same way but everyone has to cope and theater is a wonderful way to cope.

  2. Hi Callie! I loved your presentation! I think pointing out the effects of mindfulness and safe spaces (like the theater) on depression is important in helping everyone to heal. As a former theater kid, I completely relate to that feeling of community and friendship present during a theater production. Everyone’s free to be themselves and express themselves/their feelings which is important in promoting positivity! Great job!

  3. What a great presentation. I am so happy that our theater program was such a support to you and so proud of all you have accomplished!
    Mrs. Porto

  4. Hi Callie. I loved reading through your project, and I specifically really liked that you incorporated quotes throughout your text. I’ve found that both reminding myself to be grateful and using art a as created, connecting outlet have helped me deal with my anxiety.

  5. Hi Callie, I really liked your project. In my GOA class about abnormal psychology, we did a gratitude journal that was supposed to reduce our stress. It’s so interesting that I found your project, and now I can read about the psychology behind it. I felt less stressed, but I wasn’t sure until now. Overall, your project was great to read, and made me understand things I didn’t know before about gratitude.

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