A high school peer-to-peer depression awareness program in Michigan that encouraged students to both learn about and educate other students about mental illness reduced stigma and increased knowledge about depression, perception in identifying those who may have depression and willingness to get help for themselves, according to a report published in Psychiatric Services.
“Depression often starts early in life, so our efforts should match that,” lead author Sagar V. Parikh, MD, FRCPC, department of psychiatry, University of Michigan, said in a press release. “Providing education and advice on recognizing depression and anxiety, and de-stigmatizing it, begins in the schools.”
For this report, researchers examined the 2015 to 2016 outcome data from 10 high schools involved in the Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness Program, which was developed by the University of Michigan Depression Center and Ann Arbor Public Schools to provide a universal, school-based awareness approach to improve mental health stigma, direct students to resources and encourage help-seeking behavior among teens.
Students from all grade levels chosen to become a program team member attended a 6-hour conference to learn about mental health, coping skills, peer support resources and active listening skills. After the training, each team developed a school-wide awareness campaign, implemented from January to May of the following year, then shared what they learned with other participating schools. Program members and nonmember students completed pre- and postintervention questionnaires to determine the overall effects of the peer-to-peer depression awareness program.
During the 2015 to 2016 academic year, 878 students completed questionnaires. The most common activities involved in the campaigns were school assemblies, displaying material around the school on posters and flyers and promotional giveaways.
The overall effects of the peer-to-peer depression awareness program were positive. Postintervention analysis revealed that student program members were more confident in identifying and helping others with depression and improved their ability to speak comfortably with other students about mental illness problems. Nonmember adolescents were more likely to ask for help if they had symptoms of depression for longer than 2 weeks, were less embarrassed about being seen going to the school social worker’s/psychologist’s office, and more comfortable talking about mental health issues with their peers after the intervention.
“The peer leaders served as positive role models and helped shape social norms and attitude regarding mental disorders,” Parikh and colleagues wrote in the study. “Initiatives such as the [peer-to-peer] program that truly capitalize on youth voices and actively engage youth in program design or implementation are rare. Given the early age of onset of depression and the critical importance of early detection and prevention of depressive disorders these findings are noteworthy.” – by Savannah Demko
Disclosures: Parikh reports receiving grant/research support from Assurex and consulting for Lundbeck, Otsuka Pharmaceutical, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, Inc and Takeda Pharmaceutical. He also holds shares at Mensante Corporation. Please see the full study for other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.