Peer support leader programmes help teens with anxiety and depression

Peer support leader
© Chernetskaya

According to a new national poll, 1 in 3 parents strongly encourage schools having peer support leader programmes for their child’s mental health

An estimated 1 in 5 teenagers have symptoms of a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety and, according to a new national poll(1), parents think peer to peer support would encourage more teens to talk to someone about their mental health problems.

Mott Poll Co-Director Sarah Clark, M.P.H, says: “Peers may provide valuable support for fellow teens struggling with emotional issues because they can relate to each other.

“Some teens may worry that their parents will overreact or not understand what they’re going through. Teachers and school counsellors may also have limited time to talk with students in the middle of other responsibilities.”

Some schools have appointed peer support leaders, who are trained with oversight from teachers, counsellors or mental health professionals, to give teens safe ways to discuss their problems.

“We have seen strong examples of school programs that prepare teens to be good listeners and to identify warning signs of suicide or other serious problems,” Clark adds.

“The peer support mentors’ role is to listen, suggest problem-solving strategies, share information about resources, and, when appropriate, encourage their fellow student to seek help. The most essential task is to pick up on signs that suggest the student needs immediate attention and to alert the adults overseeing the program. While this doesn’t replace the need for professional support, these programs offer young people a non-threatening way to start working through their problems.”

Benefits and concerns of peer support

38% of parents believe if their own teen was struggling with a mental health problem, their teen would likely talk to a peer support leader, however, they did express some concerns about peers providing mental health support to fellow teens as well.

  • 62% worried about whether a peer would keep their teen’s information confidential
  • 57% were worried if the peer leader would know when and how to inform adults about a problem
  • 53% were worried if the peer leader would be able to tell if their teen needs immediate crisis help
  • 47% were worried if teens can be trained to provide this kind of support

“Some of the parents’ biggest concerns pertained to whether the peer leader would be able to tell if their teen needed immediate professional intervention and how to initiate those next steps,” Clark says.

Despite these concerns, a third of parents still say they “definitely favour” having a peer support leaders program and 64% would allow their own teen to be trained as a peer support leader.

Yet, roughly half of parents worried whether there would be sufficient training and about 30% weren’t sure if their teen was mature enough to serve as a peer support leader.

“Most parents approve of their teen being trained as a peer support leader, seeing it at as an opportunity to develop leadership skills and better understand the challenges that different teens face, but many also wanted reassurance that teens in these roles would have the adult guidance and support necessary to deal with difficult emotional situations, she adds.

“Close connection to knowledgeable adults is an essential part of any school-based peer mental health program, particularly in regards to suicide prevention.

“The adults in teens’ lives – including parents, teachers and other mentors – serve critical roles during challenging times, but peers may also be an untapped resource to help teens who need someone to talk to”, she concludes.


(1)C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine


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