The impact of a community mentorship program on youth with risks for suicidal behaviors

King, C. A., Gipson, P. Y., Arango, A., Foster, C. E., Clark, M., Ghaziuddin, N., & Stone, D. (2018). LET’s CONNECT community mentorship program for youths with peer social problems: Preliminary findings from a randomized effectiveness trial. Journal of Community Psychology, 46(7), 885-902. doi:10.1002/jcop.21979

Summarized by Rachel Thompson

Notes of Interest:

LET’s CONNECT aims to promote youths’ healthy development through supportive mentorship, facilitating opportunities for participation in positive community activities. The program matches youths at elevated risk for suicidal behaviors due to social challenges with adult community mentors. The findings of this study show that this community mentorship program was associated with small positive effect sizes at 6 months, including a significant increase in social connectedness, community connectedness, thwarted belongingness, depression, and self-esteem. Only suicidal ideation had null effects. Further research is crucial to understand the long-term impact of this program and its potential to improve the well-being of youths.

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 data suggest the need for more research focusing on suicidal behavior among low-income and African American youths to enable us to develop effective prevention strategies that are culturally sensitive and responsive to the context in which these youths live. challenges with sustaining youth–mentor relationships in this study suggest the need for even more culturally tailored innovative approaches to engaging and retaining urban families and mentors in community-based research. It will also be important for future studies to address not only the amount or dose of mentorship but also the impact of quality of youth–CM relationships on intervention outcomes.

It is possible that the program’s initial benefits will have positive ripple effects in youths’ developmental trajectories and protect against development of a negative spiral from low social connectedness and self-esteem to suicidal ideation and possibly suicidal behavior. However, it is also possible that suicidal thoughts and related mental health concerns need to be directly targeted and that a more intensive, multicomponent program will be needed to prevent the onset of suicidal behavior among at-risk youths. Further research is warranted to understand this strengths-based program’s longer term impact and its potential to improve the well-being of youths from differing communities, including communities challenged by poverty and elevated levels of violence.

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