Dr Frances Kay-Lambkin
Hunter Institute of Mental Health
Project completion year
The Save-a-Mate program was developed by the Australian Red Cross in 1999 in response to growing concerns in the Australian community regarding the use and availability of alcohol and other drugs. As part of this initiative, a peer education program was also developed, in collaboration with Orygen Youth Health and Beyondblue, to provide education and training to young people to facilitate discussions with their peers around issues of substance use and misuse, and to discuss issues relating to mental health and illness (specifically anxiety and depression). This program, ‘‘Talk Out Loud’’ was disseminated during 2006, in the hope that it would lead peer educators to attend a number of events and festivals, and communicate positive health messages to young people at these events. The Hunter Institute of Mental Health (HIMH) was contracted by beyondblue as the independent evaluator of the peer education program.
The research/ evaluation conducted by HIMH had two primary objectives:
- To determine the efficacy of the ‘‘Talk Out Loud’’ training program in preparing young people to engage with their peers in conversations about mental health and illness, specifically anxiety and depression.
- To identify ways in which the program of training and supporting young people to engage in peer education about mental health and illness can be improved.
- Increased knowledge and understanding of mental health and mental illness;
- Decreased stigma around mental illness;
- Increased self-reported confidence of workshop participants to engage and discuss with peers about mental health and mental illness-related issues;
- Increased engagement with peers, family and friends about mental health and mental illness following ‘‘Talk Out Loud’’ training;
- Increased awareness of the need for the ‘‘Talk Out Loud’’ workshop; and
- The importance of visual aids and activities to supplement the training.
In general, the ‘‘Talk Out Loud’’ program achieved its objectives, and was regarded as acceptable and important to those who participated in the training. Training was also associated with increases in knowledge about mental health and mental illness, and participants felt comfortable broaching these issues with their peers when appropriate.
Implications for Policy and Practice
Peer education models for young people are a powerful tool. Young people are more comfortable with communicating around health issues via these models and are enthusiastic about learning specific health information.
This model will continually develop with both adjustments to the tools it employs to competently deliver the program and the language it is written in to more appropriately accommodate the target group.
There is enormous potential for this program to be modified to represent specific target groups. Targets of Indigenous communities, rural communities and other specific cultural and ethnic groups could be considered.
The findings of the study have had a direct impact on the Australian Red Cross who have modified the program structure to cater to indigenous communities. Currently (2007) a pilot study of the Save a Mate Talk out Loud program specifically tailored to indigenous communities, titled ‘Our Way’ is being rolled out in six North Queensland communities.
About the Researchers
The Hunter Institute of Mental Health (HIMH, the Institute) was established in 1992 to provide mental health education and training programs, promote mental health and undertake research in mental health promotion, suicide prevention and other mental health related areas. It is a business unit of the Hunter New England Area Health Service, which is established under state legislation in New South Wales (Health Services Act, amended 1997).