Master of Arts
Vulnerable youth may be more susceptible to developing problematic behaviours and mental health challenges, including anxious and depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, substance misuse, and unhealthy relationships. Social-emotional learning programs like The Healthy Relationships Plus Program (HRPP) can foster positive youth development by including training on mental health literacy, developing skills in help-seeking, and providing opportunities to practice difficult conversations. This study explored youth’s responses to hypothetical challenges faced by peers with a group of sixty-three adolescents who had participated in the HRPP. Responses to four distinct scenarios were collected to examine youths’ perceptions of various challenges and problematic behaviours, including mental health challenges, suicidal ideation, substance misuse, and unhealthy relationships. Results indicated that most youths are capable of identifying challenges faced by peers as problematic, facilitating help-seeking through direct action, and providing helpful advice. Results revealed that adolescents may require additional education regarding the long-term consequences of substance misuse and unhealthy relationships. Findings from this report highlight the need for future research on real-life help-seeking in adolescents. Finally, the results may inform parents, educators, youth service providers, and policymakers on important topics of discussion with youth and how to facilitate the use of formal community resources or helping professionals.
Summary for Lay Audience
This study investigated how adolescents perceive and respond to their peers who are experiencing mental health challenges including suicidal ideation, and problematic behaviours such as misusing substances or engaging in an unhealthy relationship. Prior to participation, youth had completed a social-emotional learning program with a focus on mebtal health literacy and help-seeking. Participants responded to a questionnaire after read scenarios depicting substance misuse, unhealthy relationship behaviours, mental health challenges, and suicidal ideation.
Findings indicate that almost all adolescents deemed the scenarios as problematic yet were more likely to view cases of mental health challenges and suicidal ideation as more problematic compared to substance misuse and unhealthy relationships. Similarly, adolescents were more capable of conveying a deeper understanding of the issues when responding to mental health challenges and suicidal ideation versus misuse of substances and unhealth relationships. Adolescents’ were more likely to offer a blend of both formal, professional help and informal help from a trusted person for someone experiencing substance misuse and mental health challenges, while a close friend or adult was the more frequent recommendation for someone in an unhealthy relationship, and suicidal ideation warranted the most recommendations for formal, profession help. Finally, when asked how the participant themselves would help a friend experiencing mental health challenges or problematic behaviours, adolescents gave very helpful advice and most frequently communicated that they would actively get their friend help.
The implications of these findings highlight the need for additional education about unhealthy relationships and substance misuse as it appears that some adolescents may not be fully understanding the potential negative effects of these problematic behaviours. Additionally, as parents are often the chosen informal source youth disclose problems to, providing more support for parents may be required to help them assist their adolescent with these issues. As youth appeared to be prepared and good at giving helpful advice to their peers experiencing mental health challenges and problematic behaviours, further research is required to determine if this positive finding is due to participation in an SEL training program or perhaps as the result of a societal shift towards mental health awareness and treatment.
Sommers, Jessica, "Adolescents’ Perceptions and Responses to Peer Mental Health Challenges and Problematic Behaviours Following a Social-Emotional Learning Program" (2019). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 6597.