Let’s connect: how a community mentoring impacts adolescents with peer social problems

King, C. A., Gipson, P. Y., Arango, A., Lernihan, D., Clark, M., Foster, C. E., Caldwell, C., Ghaziuddin, N., & Stone, D. (2021). LET’s CONNECT Community Mentorship Program for Adolescents with Peer Social Problems: A Randomized Intervention Trial. American Journal of Community Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12528

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Involvement in bullying (either as a bully or as a victim) correlates with an increased risk for suicide. 
  • Although meta-analyses have found weak evidence of youth mentoring programs being effective, mentorships still have the potential to make a positive impact on youths with social problems.
  • This study assesses the effectiveness of LET’s CONNECT (LC), a community mentoring program for children who have social problems. 
    • Social problems include bullying perpetration, bullying victimization, &/or low social connectedness.
  • More specifically, it examines how much LC lowers suicidal ideation levels and improves the mental health and sense of connectedness among at-risk youths. 
  • LC correlated with increased connectedness at the 6-month mark of the program.
    • It was also associated with notable yet insignificant effects on lower depression levels and community connectedness. 
  • The program did not have an impact on suicidal ideation. 
  • Future research studies need to examine suicidal behaviors among Black and low-income youths to establish effective and culturally sensitive prevention approaches. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract) 

This study examined the effectiveness of LET’s CONNECT (LC), a community mentorship program for youths who report peer social problems, which is based on a positive youth development framework. Participants were 218 youths (66.5% girls), aged 12 to 15 years, who were recruited from an urban medical emergency department and screened positive for bullying victimization, bullying perpetration, and/or low social connectedness. Youths were randomized to LC (n = 106) or the control condition (n = 112). Six-month outcomes were assessed with self-report measures of youth social connectedness, community connectedness, thwarted belongingness, depression, self-esteem, and suicidal ideation. LC was associated with a significant increase in only one of these outcomes, social connectedness (effect size = 0.4). It was associated consistently with trend-level positive changes for thwarted belongingness (decreased), depression (decreased), community connectedness, and self-esteem (effect sizes = 0.2). There was no effect on suicidal ideation (effect size = 0.0), and although not a primary outcome, eight youths in the LC condition and seven youths in the control condition engaged in suicidal behavior between baseline and follow-up. Although LC effect sizes are consistent with those from previous studies of community mentorship, there were multiple challenges to LC implementation that affected dosage and intervention fidelity, and that may account for the lack of stronger positive effects.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The LC program matched youths at elevated risk for suicidal behavior–due to social challenges, operationalized as self-reported peer bullying victimization, peer bullying perpetration, and/or low social connectedness (loneliness)–with adult NMs and CMs. Based on the strengths-based approach, referred to as “positive youth development” (Lerner et al., 2015), LC aimed to promote youths’ healthy development through supportive mentorship that facilitated opportunities for participation in positive community activities. It was hypothesized that LC would be associated with improved connectedness (reduced loneliness), reduced depression and suicidal ideation, and a trajectory that would subsequently lead to lower risk for the onset of suicidal behavior. At 6 months, LC was associated with improved social connectedness (reduced loneliness) and promising yet nonsignificant effects for community connectedness and reduced depression. LC had no significant effect on suicidal ideation.

The small, positive LC effect sizes for connectedness and depression are consistent with effect sizes demonstrated previously for community mentorship programs (DuBois et al., 2002, 2011). Nevertheless, our hypothesis that these small positive effects would extend to suicidal ideation within the 6-month follow-up period was not supported by results. It is possible that a more extended follow-up period will yield such benefits because positive changes in youth connectedness could have ripple effects, favorably affecting other domains (e.g., more positive emotions, more positive engagement in healthy activities), including suicidal ideation.

One possible reason for the absence of short-term effects on suicidal ideation is that many study youths were just entering middle adolescence, a time when adolescents normatively report higher prevalence rates of suicidal ideation and behavior (Nock et al., 2013). Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (Nock et al., 2013) indicate that the prevalence of suicidal ideation increases rapidly between 12 and 17 years of age. Furthermore, the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts is low through age 12 and then increases until age 17. A second possibility is the participant exclusion criteria. Because a longer term aim of this intervention is to prevent the initial occurrence of suicidal behavior, and our CMs were not trained to work with higher risk youths, youths who had already made a suicide attempt were excluded. As such, we likely excluded many of the youths with higher levels of suicidal ideation at the time of their emergency department visit, reducing variability on this variable.

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