UCSB Researchers Study the Effectiveness of an Innovative Program Designed to Help Youth Learn About Mental Health
Mental Health Matters, a program of the Mental Wellness Center, is in place in 35 classrooms in schools in Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito and Buellton, helping 11- and 12-year-old children learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of six major mental illnesses: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and stress disorders, major depression, bipolar disorders, eating disorders and schizophrenia.
Mental Health Matters is an innovative curricular unit designed for students approaching or in adolescence whereby they are taught basic facts about mental wellness. Two formats are available: one for sixth graders and one for ninth graders. Students learn to recognize symptoms of mental health disorders and that treatment is available. A secondary objective is to directly address the stigma too often associated with mental illness. The goal is to increase the students’ understanding of mental illness, reduce the associated stigma and share wellness practices.
But, does program actually work?
Hannah Weisman, a doctoral student in the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology at UCSB, and part of the Mental Health Matters teaching team and her graduate advisor, Maryam Kia-Keating, an associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology, designed a study to find out. The findings, which appear in the October issue of the Journal of School Health, suggest the program is reaching its goals.
In Study 1, 142 sixth graders participated in MHM and completed pre- and postprogram measures of mental health knowledge, stigma, and program acceptability. Teachers also completed ratings of acceptability. Study 2 (120 seventh graders) compared participants who had participated in MHM the previous year with those who had not using the same measures. According to Kia-Keating, the researchers saw an increase in the students’ knowledge of mental illness and a decrease in the stigma associated with it.