Youth mental health first aid: A description of the program and an initial evaluation

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Abstract

Background: Adolescence is the peak age of onset for mental illness, with half of all people who will ever have a mental illness experiencing their first episode prior to 18 years of age. Early onset of mental illness is a significant predictor for future episodes. However, adolescents and young adults are less likely than the population as a whole to either seek or receive treatment for a mental illness. The knowledge and attitudes of the adults in an adolescent's life may affect whether or not help is sought, and how quickly. In 2007, the Youth Mental Health First Aid Program was launched in Australia with the aim to teach adults, who work with or care for adolescents, the skills needed to recognise the early signs of mental illness, identify potential mental health-related crises, and assist adolescents to get the help they need as early as possible. This paper provides a description of the program, some initial evaluation and an outline of future directions.Methods: The program was evaluated in two ways. The first was an uncontrolled trial with 246 adult members of the Australian public, who completed questionnaires immediately before attending the 14 hour course, one month later and six months later. Outcome measures were: recognition of schizophrenia or depression; intention to offer and confidence in offering assistance; stigmatising attitudes; knowledge about adolescent mental health problems and also about the Mental Health First Aid action plan. The second method of evaluation was to track the uptake of the program, including the number of instructors trained across Australia to deliver the course, the number of courses they delivered, and the uptake of the YMHFA Program in other countries.Results: The uncontrolled trial found improvements in: recognition of schizophrenia; confidence in offering help; stigmatising attitudes; knowledge about adolescent mental health problems and application of the Mental Health First Aid action plan. Most results were maintained at follow-up. Over the first 3 years of this program, a total of 318 instructors were trained to deliver the course and these instructors have delivered courses to 10,686 people across all states and territories in Australia. The program has also spread to Canada, Singapore and England, and will spread to Hong Kong, Sweden and China in the near future.Conclusions: Initial evaluation suggests that the Youth Mental Health First Aid course improves participants' knowledge, attitudes and helping behaviour. The program has spread successfully both nationally and internationally.Trial registration: ACTRN12609000033246. © 2011 Kelly et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

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Kelly, C. M., Mithen, J. M., Fischer, J. A., Kitchener, B. A., Jorm, A. F., Lowe, A., & Scanlan, C. (2011). Youth mental health first aid: A description of the program and an initial evaluation. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/1752-4458-5-4

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