Peer Education Project (PEP)

Youth ambassadors of the Mental Health Foundation Sophia Parvizi-Wayne and Amber Van Dam, with Friends of the Foundation Chair Fiorella Massey.

The Peer Education Project is a school-based pilot scheme aimed at ensuring that young people have the skills and knowledge they need to safeguard their mental health, and that of their peers.

Cohorts of 'peer educators' are trained to deliver a curriculum covering a range of mental health and wellbeing issues to younger pupils. The aim of the programme is to improve young people’s understanding of ways to maintain their mental health, knowledge about routes to help and confidence in supporting their peers.

The Peer Education Project is aimed at equipping young people with the knowledge and understanding of stigma, mental wellbeing and the ways in which they can safeguard themselves and their peers. By training Year 12s (16-17) to teach Year 7s (11-12), PEP's aim is to bypass the walls many young people put up when being taught such nuanced, personal topics by adults whom they feel are detached from their personal experiences.

The programme is led and managed by the Mental Health Foundation, with development partners at Cernis and Highgate School and Place2Be. It was inspired by two teenage girls who, in 2015, supported each other and campaigned for better mental health awareness in schools.

This project was primarily generously funded by the Friends of the Foundation and their enormously successful fundraising campaign in 2016. The Friends and their efforts fully funded the project for its initial pilot in 2015-16 and the current phase two in 2016-17. 

The facts: clear and bleak

  • Over the past ten years there has been a 68% increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm (YoungMinds, 2011).
  • In 2014, figures were published suggesting a 70% increase in 10-14 year olds attending A&E for self-harm related reasons over the preceding 2 years (Self-harm UK).
  • The number of hospital admissions across the UK for teenagers with eating disorders has nearly doubled in the past three years (up by 89%, BEAT June 2015).

Antonis Kousoulis, the Foundation's Assistant Director of Development programmes said:

"These numbers reinforce the fact that we are facing a crisis in the mental health of the nation that will not be solved solely by increasing access to mental health services. It is only by relentlessly focusing on good public mental health, giving people the tools and knowledge to support themselves and others, and starting as early in life as possible that we can shift things in the right direction.

"Using young people’s strengths, creativity and altruism, as well as their resilience – as our project will do – builds on what they are doing and can do together."

Evidence has shown that peer support can be a highly effective way to promote a range of health and wellbeing information. Furthermore, the programme’s whole-school approach aims to tackle stigma and discrimination as young people learn that mental health affects us all.

What have we done so far?

Three schools took part in the first feasibility phase of the Peer Education pilot during 2015/16. Findings from the evaluation were encouraging:

  • 19.1% increase in those saying they 'understand what mental health is'.
  • 29.9% increase in Year 7 reporting that they 'know how to keep well mentally'.
  • 57.8% increase in students saying they 'have an understanding of what stigma is'.
  • 33% more students said that they are now 'able to talk openly with others' about their mental health.

What are we doing now?

In 2016/17, we are piloting a revised version of the programme in 10 schools; more than 60 peer educators will be trained and over 1,000 Year 7 students will receive the curriculum.

As an outcome of this pilot, we hope to make the case for the programme to be rolled out more widely, as well as making available:

  • a co-produced peer learning resource for young people aged 11-18
  • a co-produced training pack for those delivering the training sessions
  • a school support pack including guidance and support material for teachers, co-produced with school staff and young people
  • materials and resources that will be useable by and with a wide range of abilities.

"I had never thought of mental health as a spectrum before and had mainly heard it used in reference to poor mental health and illness. I never really realised the importance of maintaining good mental health. I now think that this is a fundamental issue that must be encountered at a younger age to stop the stigma that surrounds it.

"This project (PEP) helps to stop this cycle at the root by making mental health a subject that is no longer a taboo. This is particularly relevant to me as I wish to study medicine at university and so is an important learning curve of how to handle children and potentially difficult subject."  Year 12 Peer Educator, pilot phase 2015-16