Last Monday, Nov. 13, ten Mill Creek Middle School students attended a conference at the University of Michigan Depression Center as part of middle school pilot program for the Peer to Peer Depression Awareness Initiative.
Originally designed for high schools in 2009, the U-M Depression Center (UMDC) and the Ann Arbor Public Schools developed the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) 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.
Located in the Rachel Upjohn Building on the University of Michigan’s North Campus, The U of M Depression Center states,
“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.”
The goals of the P2P 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 high school students have participated on P2P teams and the program has expanded from five high schools to thirteen.
“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.”
The success of the program has leaders now looking at the middle school level. The P2P program will be piloted in nine Washtenaw County middle schools for the current school year. The nine middle schools are: Ann Arbor’s Clague Middle School, Ypsilanti’s Washtenaw International Middle Academy, Ypsilanti Community Middle School, Ann Arbor’s Forsythe Middle School, Ann Arbor’s Slauson Middle School, Lincoln Middle School, Ann Arbor’s Scarlett Middle School, Ann Arbor’s Tappan Middle School and Dexter’s Mill Creek Middle School.
Mill Creek School Counselor, Robert Grams, explains there will be a shift away from the peer-to-peer emphasis for middle school students with “the idea of peers confiding in other students and having students hold themselves out as ‘people kids can talk to.’”
Grams goes on to say, “We are being cautious about protecting our students in the program from being exposed to too much information. Students who participated in the program signed a contract that they would not provide mental health counseling for peers or give mental health advice. “
At Monday’s conference, U of M emphasized that students in the program have a responsibility to take care of themselves, and that they are peer mental health educators, not therapists. In their role, the team has the mission of:
- Raising Awareness of mental health issues
- Reducing stigma around mental health issues
- Promoting help-seeking by encouraging students to get connected with professionals who can help
Grams adds, “The U of M program was very well done and calibrated for a middle school audience. Mill Creek students were excited and actively engaged throughout the day.”
Funding for Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness Campaign 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.