JOURNAL ARTICLE
MULTICENTER STUDY

Impact of a mental health teaching programme on adolescents

Paul B Naylor, Helen A Cowie, Stephen J Walters, Lorenzo Talamelli, Judith Dawkins
British Journal of Psychiatry 2009, 194 (4): 365-70
19336791

BACKGROUND: Child and adolescent mental health disorders are present in around 10% of the population. Research indicates that many young people possess negative attitudes towards mental health difficulties among peers.

AIMS: To assess the impact of a mental health teaching programme on adolescent pupils' understanding.

METHOD: Two-group pre-test-post-test control group study in two English secondary schools. Experimental classes (School E) received a six-lesson teaching intervention on mental health; control classes (School C) did not. Participants were 14- and 15-year-old pupils. The intervention consisted of six lessons on mental health issues common to young people: stress; depression; suicide/self-harm; eating disorders; being bullied; and intellectual disability. School C was given access to these lesson plans and materials on completion of the study. Understanding was measured at two time points, Time 1 (T(1)) and Time 2 (T(2)), 8 months apart, by a Mental Health Questionnaire. Behavioural, emotional and relationship strengths and difficulties were measured by the self-rated Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) with five subscales: hyperactivity, emotional symptoms, conduct problems, peer problems and prosocial behaviour.

RESULTS: At T(2), pupils in School E compared with those in School C showed significantly more sensitivity and empathy towards people with mental health difficulties. They also used significantly fewer pejorative expressions to describe mental health difficulties. There was a significant reduction in SDQ scores on conduct problems and a significant increase on prosocial behaviour among School E pupils compared with controls. Pupils valued the intervention highly, in particular the lessons on suicide/self-harm.

CONCLUSIONS: Teaching 14- and 15-year-olds about mental health difficulties helps to reduce stigma by increasing knowledge and promoting positive attitudes. The intervention also reduced self-reported conduct problems and increased prosocial behaviour. Generally, participating pupils were positive about the importance of lessons on mental health, and said that they had learnt much about the lesson topics.

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