Bridging the Gap: How Mentors Can Supplement Mental Health Services

Weiler, L. M., Hanson, A. N., Busse, C., Aronson, E., & Neiman, P. J. (2024). The need and acceptability of a youth mental health mentoring model to supplement adolescent outpatient mental health services. Children and Youth Services Review, 161, 107688.


Youth mental health challenges in the United States are escalating at an alarming rate, necessitating innovative strategies for effective care delivery. Outpatient mental health services are increasingly critical, yet many adolescents do not fully benefit from these treatments due to engagement challenges and logistical barriers (Sommers-Flanagan et al., 2011; Reardon et al., 2017). 

Weiler and colleagues (2024) conducted a study to assess the need for and acceptability of a youth mental health mentoring model to supplement existing outpatient services.


Focus groups of adolescents (n=3, aged 14–17, 66% Black), parents/guardians (n=4, 50% Black), clinicians (n=5, 100% White), or potential paraprofessional mental health mentors (n=5, 40% White) from community mental health centers or the YMCA provided feedback.  

They were asked to provide general reactions to the proposed model and specific aspects such as program length, meeting frequency, and mentor characteristics.

Thematic data analysis was employed to analyze responses.


Need for Additional Services

  • Adolescents and parents reported that current therapy was insufficient, and clinicians highlighted long waitlists as a barrier to the effectiveness of treatment
  • Mentors hypothesized that an augmentative mentoring program would create an informal and safe space for emotion exploration 

Acceptability of the Youth Mental Health Mentoring Model

  • Adolescents preferred mentors closer in age and Mentors reported valuing the opportunity to support adolescents’ mental health.
  • Parents importantly noted mentors should be trained in mental health and crisis intervention.
  • Clinicians emphasized the importance of clear role delineation between mentors and clinicians and the need for mentors to receive comprehensive training and supervision.


Findings indicate a substantial need for supplemental mental health services for adolescents engaged in outpatient therapy. 

Paraprofessional mental health mentors may provide essential support, particularly given the national provider shortages and long waitlists, providing a service that is well received by adolescents, families, clinicians, and mentors.

As the authors importantly note, “To the extent that programs can appropriately and effectively support mentors in these roles, programs may be able to positively impact adolescent mental health while preventing persistence of mental health problems”. 

Implications for Mentoring Programs

  • Collaborate with interested outpatient therapy sites to discuss viability of integration with the mentoring program
  • When identifying fit with an outpatient site pay specific attention to: mentor age and identifying matching practices, creating effective communication methods with families, mentor training, and guidelines for delineating roles 
  • Provide comprehensive training for mentors, including confidentiality, professional boundaries, mental health, de-escalation strategies, crisis intervention, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Establish a consistent mentor supervision regimen that allows open communication about mentee and mentor experience

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