Training students to recognise mental health problems in their friends could potentially save lives, according to a mental health consultant.
Tasha Broomhall, director of consultancy group Blooming Minds, accredited recently to offer a mental health first-aid course to students from Years 10 to 12, said many mental health issues surfaced in adolescence.
Research showed young people preferred to share problems with their friends, so it was important to give students the skills and strategies to support each other.
She said some private WA schools that had shown interest in offering the program next year had raised concerns about the number of suicides among former students in the first few years after leaving school.
“The schools we’ve been speaking to want to know how they can better equip these kids that might themselves need some help or be able to help someone else,” Ms Broomhall said.
Students learn during three 90-minute sessions about common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, alcohol and drug use, and psychotic disorders.
University of Melbourne research with almost 1000 Year 10 and 11 students from four Victorian schools found the course made a difference to their ability and confidence in helping peers with a mental health problem.
Students who had done the course were less likely to reject someone with mental health problems and less likely to believe that having a mental illness was a sign of weakness.
Ms Broomhall said the main purpose of the training was to help students gain the confidence to help connect teenagers having mental health problems with a caring adult.
She said many students might recognise when a friend was in distress, but if they did not understand how to deal with the problem, they would either distance themselves or take the burden on themselves. “We want them to use the third option, which is to connect the friend with a trusted adult,” Ms Broomhall said.