Helping Peers Experiencing a Mental Health Problem

Many young people feel inadequately prepared to help their peers with a mental health problem or crisis, according to a recent review of the research literature.

With the peak onset for mental health problems estimated to be 14.5 years, and 20% of young people experiencing high levels of psychological distress, it is likely that many young people will encounter a peer with poor mental health.

Australian Rotary Health Colin Dodds Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Laura Hart co-authored a recently published systematic review and narrative synthesis in the journal Early Intervention in Psychiatry, which looked at 21 studies on the help-giving actions of young people (aged 12-25 years), as well as interventions designed to increase and improve help-giving.

The review found that overall, the most frequent themes related to help-giving in young people were providing emotional support and encouraging the peer to seek support from a professional or adult.

“It was really pleasing to see how often young people reported encouraging a peer to seek adult or professional help,” Dr Hart said.

Another commonly reported (but not recommended) help-giving action, was the tendency for young people to keep their peer’s mental health concerns a secret or to ignore the peer.

“This highlights the need for greater education among young people to overcome their concerns about breaking confidentiality when helping peers.”

The review also found across studies it was consistently reported that young people felt ill-prepared to help their peers with a mental health concern or crisis.

This included the young people not knowing what to do, not believing anything could be done, or wondering if they had helped enough.

In particular, with self-harm and suicide risk, young people were generally reluctant to ask their peers about these behaviours. Two studies showed that 29% and 79% of young people did not talk to their peer about their mental health, despite their concerns about risk of self-harm or suicide.

“The results of the current review suggest that young people want to help their friends, and are in a great position to do so, but teens really need guidance on how to recognise when there is a risk to their friend and the importance of getting an adult involved when there is a mental health crisis.” Dr Hart said.

Interventions such as teen Mental Health First Aid have been shown to be successful in helping young people feel more informed and prepared to help their peers.

“There is an important role for training interventions in increasing young people’s confidence and capacity in helping their peers experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Read the full article here.

Watch Episode 3 of ABC’s Magda’s Big National Health Check (timepoint 14:20) to learn more about how teen Mental Health First Aid is helping high school students in the classroom.

Media contact: Jessica Cooper –

First published 21st November, 2022

Support Us