Simple lessons change teens attitude

Teaching school children about common mental health problems can reduce prejudice and negative attitudes towards mental illness, according to a new study published in the April issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

A group of researchers, led by Dr Paul Naylor of the University of Sheffield, found that teenagers who received just six lessons on mental health showed significantly more sensitivity and empathy towards people with mental health problems. The teenagers also used less negative language to describe mental health problems.  The study followed 14- and 15-year-old pupils at two secondary schools in London.
At one school, the pupils attended six 50-minute lessons on mental health issues common among young people: stress, depression, suicide/self-harm, eating disorders, being bullied and learning disabilities. The lessons included discussion, role-playing and internet research, and pupils were shown booklets, factsheets and films. Pupils at the other school did not receive any of these lessons.

The week before the lessons began, pupils in both schools completed questionnaires to determine their attitudes towards mental illness. This was repeated eight months after the lessons finished.

The lessons had a number of positive effects on the pupils’ understanding of mental health problems. Both boys and girls showed more understanding of why some people become depressed or think life is not worth living, how bullied people are affected etc. They were also more likely to be able to name five mental health difficulties, and were less likely to use stigmatising language such as ‘nutter’ or ‘got a screw loose’.

“This study shows that teaching 14- and 15-year-olds about mental health difficulties helps to reduce stigma by increasing knowledge and promoting positive attitudes. Generally, participating pupils were positive about the importance of lessons on mental health, and said they had learnt much about the lesson topics.”

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2 thoughts on “Simple lessons change teens attitude

  1. Thank you so much for this insight. Your point about sex ed really made me think, especially with the new sex ed programs coming on ch4. I wonder what a similar program would look like for mental well being?

    Boldcreative looks like a fantastive venture…off to explore the site.

    L x

  2. A few years ago I did a small evaluation of The Loop, a really nice resource (I think) which used the experiences /stories of young people experiencing mental distress to engage other young people in discussing thinking and learning about these issues. The resource
    (do have a look!)

    was piloted in a school and with a group of young women who were described as “hard to reach” (can’t stand that phrase but that’s what was used.. it depends on who’s doing the reaching etc..).

    It was only a tiny pilot but I was very struck by the impact of the resource on the young people, it’s a great resource (which sadly hasn’t been funded for development and use in schools ) and the fact that it was a kind of peer education was really important but it was also clear that young people were starved of opportunities to talk about mental wellbeing .. their own, their parents etc.. The teachers and other adults involved said that this was a last taboo (with homosexuality) and an issue that it seemed was even harder to tackle than sex (I evaluated sex ed stuff for years and that did seem to be the case…)