U-M Depression Center Leads Mental Health Awareness Kickoff Campaign with 13 Area High Schools

Conference part of Center’s Peer-to-Peer campaign which focuses on education around depression and anxiety

The U-M Depression Center (UMDC) is organizing an educational conference for 13 area high schools to kick off the annual Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness Campaign (P2P). The kickoff conference is taking place on October 24 at Pioneer High School and will focus on training and education around depression and anxiety; developing positive coping skills; and strategies for creating an effective depression awareness campaign.

Depression among adolescents is strongly associated with significant disruption in school, relationships, and social roles. Many mental illnesses, including depression, emerge during the middle and high school age. Poor mental health in youth is strongly associated with impaired social functioning, developmental problems, and health and social outcomes such as higher alcohol and other drug use, teen pregnancy, school dropout, and behavioral issues.

In 2009, the UMDC and the Ann Arbor Public Schools developed the Peer-to-Peer program in Washtenaw County Schools to change the climate around school mental health as a response to a growing awareness of the importance of the prevention of adolescent depression. The goals of the program are to: 1) educate high school students about depressions and related illnesses; and 2) support them in finding creative ways to convey this knowledge to their peers in order to raise awareness, reduce stigma, encourage help-seeking when needed, and ultimately, help promote the early detection and prevention of depression.

Since the program’s inception over 550 students have participated on P2P teams, over 150 P2P student-run events have taken place, and thousands of students have been reached through the awareness campaigns. After the kickoff conference, P2P student teams are trained to create, implement, and disseminate a tailored school-wide depression awareness campaign under the direction of school-employed staff and advisement from University of Michigan staff.

This school-based program began with five high schools and over the years it has expanded to 13 high schools. The program will also be piloted in nine Washtenaw County middle schools this school year.

“We are excited about the growth that our Peer-to-Peer program has experienced over the years,” said Stephanie Salazar, outreach and education program manager at the UMDC. “The upcoming conference marks the largest P2P kickoff the Depression Center has ever had. We are excited about all of the lives we have been able to impact and will impact in the future.”

A P2P student participant previously said, “I loved making a positive impact regarding mental health. I liked seeing my fellow students reach out and seek help.”

This work has been made possible through a grant from the Ethel & James Flinn Foundation (to expand the Peer-to-Peer program to middle schools and continue work in high schools in 2016-2017 school year); the Ouida family; the Miles Roberts Memorial Fund; and other donors. The Flinn Foundation also provided an additional $150,000 of support which will begin in 2018. The second grant incorporates the Depression Center’s TRAILS program, as well as suicide alertness training.