Thursday, March 1, 2018

Peer Program Shows Promise in Detecting, Assisting High Schoolers With Depression

A peer depression program for high school students in Michigan increased their knowledge about depression, which could result in earlier detection of the condition and the negative impact it has on today’s youth, according to a study published today in Psychiatric Services in Advance.

About 7.5% of adolescents in the United States had depression in the past year, and it is associated with poorer academic performance, functional impairment, recurrent depression later in adulthood, substance use, and suicide. The Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness Program (P2P) aims to decrease mental illness and promote well-being in schools by empowering high school students as both learners and educators, wrote Sagar V. Parikh, M.D., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues.

For the study, 121 students across 10 high schools organized into small teams (5 to 30 students/team) and were trained to develop and implement peer-to-peer depression awareness campaigns school-wide. Program goals include improving the school climate around mental health, directing students to resources, and encouraging help-seeking behavior. A total of 878 students, including those who participated directly in the creation and implementation of the P2P projects (P2P “team members”) and those who were not on the P2P teams, filled out questionnaires about depression before and after exposure to P2P.

At each school, about 71% of students who were not on the training and development teams said they were aware of the program’s general publicity campaign and 33% attended its additional specialized programs. Participants showed improved knowledge and attitudes toward depression, increased confidence in identifying and referring peers with depression, improved help-seeking intentions, and reduced stigma.

At the program’s conclusion, team members showed statistically significant improvements in confidence in identifying and helping others with depression and in comfort speaking with their peers about mental health issues. They also were more likely to believe other students would try to help a new student with depression. Other students at the school were more likely to ask for help if they had symptoms of depression for more than two weeks and were less embarrassed about being seen going to the school’s social worker or psychologist, the authors noted.

“Tapping into youth voices is a huge part of the success of the P2P program,” Parikh and colleagues wrote. Positive outcomes were observed among both student team members, as well as other students who were exposed to the campaigns’ messages, “demonstrating the program’s value as a universal prevention program,” they concluded.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Rural Radio Program Becomes Mental Health Outreach to Youth.”

(Image: iStock/Stígur Már Karlsson/Heimsmyndir)


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