Research projects

An evaluation of teen Mental Health First Aid: A program to train adolescents to better support their peers

Principal researcher

Dr Laura Hart

Institution

University of Melbourne

Funding

$99,749

Award type

beyondblue Victorian Centre of Excellence

Project completion year

2014

Main messages 

  • Adolescence is the peak period of onset for mental illness and increasing help‐seeking and social support for adolescents with mental health problems is very important.
  • While there are established and effective programs for adults, there are no existing programs for training adolescents in how to provide mental health first aid to a peer.
  • Teen Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a new training program for Year 10–12 students, which aims to increase supportive actions provided to peers with mental health problems and increase the likelihood that early and appropriate treatment is sought, through decreasing barriers such as negative attitudes towards professionals or concerns about discussing sensitive topics with responsible adults.
  • This research evaluated the teen MHFA program for the first time by looking at how students’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards peers with a mental illness depicted in vignettes, and peers in their real life, changed over time.
  • The training was found to increase students’ confidence in helping a peer with a mental illness, increase their willingness to tell someone about a mental health problem, decrease stigma towards people with mental illness, improve recognition of anxiety and decrease psychological distress.
  • Psychological distress was measured with a scale called the K6. Higher scores have been found to indicate a greater likelihood that a mental illness is developing or currently occurring. Given that previous research shows K6 scores in students spike at exam time, we were surprised and excited to find that K6 scores significantly decreased after receiving the teen MHFA course.
  • Despite the teen MHFA training including a frank discussion of suicide, and the course being presented in schools that had experienced the recent suicide of a peer, no adverse events were associated with the training or evaluation questionnaires.
  • Although the evaluation found that teen MHFA did not improve student’s recognition of depression over time, students were already very knowledgeable about depression before the training.
  • The training appears to be acceptable to students and well received by parents and staff at host schools. These encouraging findings suggest that a full‐scale randomised control trial (RCT) should be conducted, to assess how students knowledge, attitudes and behaviours change in response to a physical first aid course, when compared to the teen MHFA course.

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