Peer Support Leaders Could Help Teens With Mental Health Problems

by Anjanee Sharma on Jan 18 2021 7:57 PM

 Peer Support Leaders Could Help Teens With Mental Health Problems
Research shows that around one in five teenagers show symptoms of a mental problem, and the leading cause of death in teens is suicide. Studies also show that as many as half of the children and teens with treatable mental health issues may not receive the treatment they deserve. //

According to experts, situations like problems with family and friends, anxiety, substance abuse, identity crisis, academic challenges and more can increase the risk for developing or triggering depression in teens.

The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at Michigan Medicine, included responses from 1,000 parents of teens ages 13-18 about their views on programs like peer support leaders.

Findings from the poll state that 76% of parents agree that peer support leaders would have a better understanding of challenges faced by teens than teachers or counsellors. 72% of parents agree that having peer support leaders would encourage more teens to talk with someone about mental health concerns. Thirty-eight percent believe if their own teen was struggling with a mental health problem, their teen would likely talk to a peer support leader and 41% of parents say it's possible their teen would take advantage of this option. 21% say it's unlikely their child would seek support from a peer mentor.

"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," says Mott Poll Co-Director Sarah Clark, M.P.H. Apart from this, findings also highlighted some of the concerns expressed by parents. 62% worried about whether a peer would keep their teen's information confidential, 57% worried if the peer leader would know when and how to inform adults about a problem, 53% worried if the peer leader would be able to tell if their teen needs immediate crisis help and 47% worried if teens can be trained to provide this kind of support.

"Some of 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 favor" having a peer support leader program through their teen's school, while 46% say they would probably support such a program. One in four parents also say their teen's school already has some type of peer support program - and these parents are twice as likely to favor such efforts. Two in three parents, or 64%, would also allow their teen to be trained as a peer support leader, recognizing the benefits to the community, the school and their child's individual growth.