New research investigates the impact of peer-to-peer programs on adolescent mental health

Presentation First Author: 
Sarah Davies

Researchers have identified that adolescents are more likely to talk to their peers than to adults. Research provides evidence that up to 90% of adolescents talk to their peers rather than to a professional when they are troubled and generally prefer to seek help from their peers, rather than from adults. Moreover, it has been found young people often doubt whether adults are capable of understanding them, or their situation, and as a consequence may believe that any assistance or advice given by an adult will be irrelevant and unhelpful. In contrast to this, there is reciprocity in peer relationships and this is central to self-disclosure. Australian youth organization, The Reach Foundation (Reach), delivers peer-to-peer experiential programs in schools and the community. These programs are designed and delivered by Reachs crew - a group of young people who are highly trained to effectively engage teenagers, foster youth engagement and promote their mental health and emotional wellbeing. 3 specific strategies Reach employs in its peer-to-peer programs to achieve these aims include: 1. The space A safe and supportive space is created where adolescents are encouraged to express themselves openly and honestly, without judgment. 2. Relevant youth-friendly content Whenever an intervention is proposed in a program the question is asked: how would a teenager relate to this and apply this principle in their life? Interventions are often created or re-crafted to ensure they are as relevant and youth-focused as possible. 3. The power of the group The power of the group is harnessed so adolescent participants can normalise their emotional experiences, learn from each other, and recognise that they are not alone. Independent research confirms that when compared with controls immediately after the participation in a Reach peer-to-peer youth program, young people report improved positive emotions (pleasure), significantly enhanced life-meaning and improved engagement with life. As the promotion of engagement and meaning over time can be instrumental in reducing the incidence of mental illness, and optimising young peoples opportunity to thrive, these outcomes are welcome. The preliminary results from the control-based psychobiological research also demonstrated a significant increase in wellbeing in adolescents, supported by self-reporting, as a result of participating in Reach programs. Sarah Davies will provide attendees with an insight into these effective peer-to-peer strategies that have successfully engaged and positively impacted over half a million young Australians over the past 18 years.

Conference Name: 
Presentation Date: 
November, 2013
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