Study: Friends understand teen depression and anxiety better than counsellors

Study: Friends understand teen depression and anxiety better than counsellors

Teen challenges including depression and anxiety are better understood by their peers as compared to teachers or counsellors in the school, believe three-quarters of parents in a new national poll. The majority also agree that peer support leaders at school would encourage more teens to talk with someone about their mental health problems. These are findings to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at Michigan Medicine.

"Peers may provide valuable support for fellow teens struggling with emotional issues because they can relate to each other," says Mott Poll Co-Director Sarah Clark, M.P.H. "Some teens may worry that their parents will overreact or not understand what they're going through. Teachers and school counsellors may also have limited time to talk with students in the middle of other responsibilities."

Previous research suggests that as many as half of children and teens who have at least one treatable mental health disorder may not receive treatment due to several barriers. But teens who don't have a diagnosed condition may still experience occasional problems with emotions, peer and family relationships, anxiety, academic challenges, substance abuse or other issues negatively impacting self-esteem.

These type of situations may increase risk of developing or triggering depression during tween and teen years, experts say. Some schools have instituted peer support leaders to give teens safe channels to share problems. Teens who serve as mentors in these programs are trained with oversight from teachers, counsellors or mental health professionals. They are available to talk with their fellow students on a walk-in basis at a designated place at school or by referral from school staff.

"We have seen strong examples of school programs that prepare teens to be good listeners and to identify warning signs of suicide or other serious problems," Clark says. "The peer support mentors' role is to listen, suggest problem-solving strategies, share information about resources, and, when appropriate, encourage their fellow student to seek help. The most essential task is to pick up on signs that suggest the student needs immediate attention and to alert the adults overseeing the program. While this doesn't replace the need for professional support, these programs offer young people a non-threatening way to start working through their problems," Clark adds.

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