Teens can teach classmates to recognize depression


Editor’s Note: How can we encourage and teach youth to help their peers around them?

High school students can improve their peers’ understanding of depression, and their attitudes about seeking help for themselves or others, according to a new study.


The findings come from a rigorous evaluation of a program created by the University of Michigan Depression Center, which students and educators used in 10 high schools.

The manual for the program, called the Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness Campaign (P2P), is now available online for free for any school to use. In a new paper in the journal Psychiatric Services, researchers describe the program and results of pre- and post-implementation measurements of its effect.

Data from 878 students show that after student-led depression awareness campaigns in their schools, students were more likely to say they:

  • Feel confident identifying the signs of depression in themselves or others
  • Would ask for help if they had depression symptoms for more than two weeks
  • Understand that depression runs in families and cannot be controlled through “willpower”
  • Feel confident in their ability to help friends access mental health services
  • Would feel less embarrassment about being seen going to a school social worker or psychologist
  • Would seek help from other sources such as a teacher, clergy, helpline, or coach if they were having a personal or emotional problem
  • Are comfortable discussing mental health with other students at school

They were also less likely to say that a hypothetical new student with depression at the school would make them feel uncomfortable, or that they would stay away from such a student.


“Depression often starts early in life, so our efforts should match that. Providing education and advice on recognizing depression and anxiety, and destigmatizing it, begins in the schools,” says Sagar Parikh, the study’s lead author and associate director of the Depression Center. “Our center has worked with the schools to deliver programs by students, for students, in the name of student health. And our research evaluation of the programs shows it is well-received and very helpful.”

Nationwide, about 7.5 percent of teens have experienced depression in the past year, according to recent research. Depression is linked with alcohol and drug use, smoking, poor academic performance, and problems with parents and peers. Depression and these other behaviors are also linked with suicidal thinking, attempts, and death by suicide.

“We are currently in 13 high schools throughout Washtenaw and Oakland counties, and this year we’re piloting the program in nine middle schools,” says study coauthor Stephanie Salazar, who runs the program. “As the program continues to grow, we hope that the manual will help others to develop similar programs in their schools in order to help students to reach their peers with these important messages in effective and meaningful ways.”


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