The Mental Health Foundation have published an Executive Summary report detailing the findings from SPHR’s research evaluating the Peer Education Project.
The Peer Education Project (PEP) is a secondary school mental health programme that was developed in 2015 by the Mental Health Foundation. It comprises older students delivering five lessons to younger students about various aspects of mental health literacy, which is a term used to describe how we recognise good and bad mental health, identify risks and symptoms of mental health issues, and seek help when needed.
In 2020, SPHR partnered with the Mental Health Foundation to conduct an independent evaluation of the PEP. The study had three parts:
- Investigating change in questionnaire scores from before and after the intervention, and devising a new questionnaire to assess mental health literacy.
- Exploring how the PEP was delivered in schools and in what circumstances it had the most benefit, through a qualitative ‘realist evaluation’.
- Conducting a systematic review to understand the effectiveness of peer education for health promotion more generally.
The Executive Summary details the findings of this study, including how the PEP does improve elements of mental health literacy, especially the intention to seek help when needed. This was shown through the quantitative and qualitative data, and it was clear that having supportive relationships amongst the students and teachers was key to its success. From reviewing the literature the researchers found some evidence that peer education can improve knowledge and attitudes, but a lack of evidence about peer-led mental health interventions, which their study will contribute to. The report also summarises key implications for future research, schools, and the Mental Health Foundation.
Esther Curtin, SPHR researcher who was involved in the evaluation says:
“We all know how challenging our teenage years can be, and this has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic affecting social interaction and learning opportunities for young people. One in six adolescents now suffer from a mental health condition, and therefore it is extremely important to intervene in schools to prevent this from rising even more. Our evaluation of the Peer Education Project, a programme delivered by students to students, highlights how it works and in what circumstances, and our findings can be used to improve the intervention to benefit the greatest number of young people across the UK.”
Widnall, E., Dodd, S., Simmonds, R., Bohan, H., Russell, A., Limmer, M., & Kidger, J. (2021). A process evaluation of a peer education project to improve mental health literacy in secondary school students: study protocol. BMC Public Health, 21(1), 1879.