Volunteer mentors may help overcome symptoms of depression among young people

Published on March 1, 2013 at 4:44 AM · No Comments

Having the guidance of a caring adult mentor may help overcome symptoms of depression among young people, according to a five-year study of 1,300 youth in Washington State.  

The study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, sheds a new and encouraging light on the effects of a positive adult role model in the lives of higher-risk youth. The Role of Risk: Mentoring Experiences and Outcomes for Youth with Varying Risk Profiles focuses on youth from seven community-based mentoring programs serving youth in Washington. It was authored by leading national researchers, Drs. Carla Herrera , David DuBois and Jean Grossman , with Issaquah-based Washington State Mentors acting as the intermediary.

"In recent years, there has been increasing pressure on many mentoring programs to serve higher-risk youth," says Dr. Herrera. "But there were a lot of unanswered questions: Could programs reach these youth? Could they benefit them? Did they need to alter their practices to work with them effectively?"

The Role of Risk presents findings from the first large-scale study to examine how the levels and types of risk youth face may influence their mentoring relationships and the benefits they derive from their program involvement.  Participating programs served youth facing a wide range of challenges.  The vast majority lived in difficult home environments, and about half had trouble in school or with peers or had mental health concerns.  Programs reached these youth with very little effort beyond their normal outreach strategies, suggesting that such "higher-risk" youth are fairly typical of the youth they serve.

The study followed youth for 13 months, comparing mentored youth to a group of similar youth who had not been offered mentoring.  Mentored youth reported fewer symptoms of depression, greater acceptance by their peers, more positive beliefs about their ability to succeed in school and better grades.  The strongest findings were related to depression which is linked to a host of short- and long-term cognitive, behavioral, and social problems.  The findings are particularly salient given that almost one in four of all the youth in the study reported worrisome levels of depressive symptoms at enrollment.

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