Mental health and mentoring relationships of aboriginal Canadian youths

DeWit, D., Wells, J., Elton-Marshall, S., & George, T. (2017). Mentoring relationships and the mental health of aboriginal youth in Canada. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 38(1), 49-66.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:  Despite some evidence suggesting formal youth mentoring programs can be effective, the effectiveness of such program is unknown for aboriginal youths. DeWit and colleagues explored how formal youth mentoring may have an impact on mental and behavioral outcomes for aboriginal youths. The researchers found that mentoring programs may be a good resource for aboriginal youths based on several findings from their study: Non-aboriginal youths were much less likely to be in a long, stable relationship than aboriginal youths; more non-aboriginal youths reported that they met with their mentors on a regular weekly-basis, participated in monthly mentoring activities, and had a great mentoring relationship with their mentors. Moreover, results also show that aboriginal youths were more likely to have a female mentor and have a terminated long, stable relationship than non-aboriginal youths.


Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

We compared the mentoring experiences and mental health and behavioral outcomes associated with program-supported mentoring for 125 Aboriginal (AB) and 734 non-Aboriginal (non-AB) youth ages 6–17 participating in a national survey of Big Brothers Big Sisters community mentoring relationships. Parents or guardians reported on youth mental health and other outcomes at baseline (before youth were paired to a mentor) and at 18 months follow-up. We found that AB youth were significantly less likely than non-AB youth to be in a long-term continuous mentoring relationship. However, AB youth were more likely than non-AB youth to be in a long-term relationship ending in dissolution. AB youth were also more likely than non-AB youth to have been mentored by a female adult. AB youth were significantly more likely than non-AB youth to report a high quality mentoring relationship, regular weekly contact with their mentor, and monthly mentoring activities. Structural equation model results revealed that, relative to non-mentored AB youth, AB youth with mentors experienced significantly fewer emotional problems and symptoms of social anxiety. These relationships were not found for non-AB youth. Our findings suggest that mentoring programs may be an effective intervention for improving the health and well-being of AB youth.


Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The results of this study suggest that BBBS community-based mentoring programs may have positive effects on the mental health of AB youth residing in large Canadian urban centers. Mentored AB youth demonstrated significant reductions in parent-rated emotional problems and symptoms of social anxiety not found among mentored non-AB youth. These mentoring benefits are particularly meaningful when placed within the context of the growing body of research showing elevated levels of mental health-related problems among many AB youth populations. Given that only a handful of AB youth were mentored by an adult Aboriginal volunteer, mentoring programs may prove to be even more effective if Aboriginal mentors and more culturally relevant programming are incorporated into BBBS and other mentoring programs. Previous writers (e.g., Sinclair & Pooyak, 2007) have suggested that Aboriginal feelings of distrust toward White European cultures present a challenging obstacle for mainstream mentoring programs to succeed and might explain why most AB youth express a desire to be mentored by Aboriginal adults.

Despite evidence that AB youth in this study benefited from being mentored, most outcomes were not statistically significant. Why mentored youth from both groups did not experience a broader range of positive behavioral and emotional outcomes is unclear. One possible explanation is that youth outcomes were rated by a single reporter (the youth’s parent or guardian), a factor that may have underestimated the actual range of positive results associated with being mentored. Another explanation is that mentoring may only be beneficial for youth sharing certain personal or environmental characteristics. For example, meta-analyses of youth mentoring programs have found that program effect sizes tend to be larger when youth have pre-existing behavioral problems or significant levels of environmental risk (DuBois et al., 2011).


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