Peer Education Project (PEP)

The Peer Education Project is a school-based programme that aims to give young people 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.

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.

Having been inspired by two teenage girls who, in 2015, supported each other and campaigned for better mental health awareness in schools, the Mental Health Foundation worked together with Cernis and Highgate School to co-produce the core of the programme content with students.

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.

The programme has now been testing in 9 schools over two years.

The second year of the project was evaluated by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families. The evaluation found that:

  • By the end of the programme, 21% more Year 7 students said they could talk openly about their mental health
  • 22% more said they knew how to stay mentally well
  • There was significant improvement in students’ knowledge of key terms – 50% of Year 7 students improved their understanding of stigma
  • Nearly 60% of students said it was more helpful to learn from their peers, rather than a teacher
  • 98% of Peer Educators and 88% of Year 7 students would ‘definitely’ or ‘maybe’ recommend that others take part in the programme

What are we doing now?

In 2017/18, we plan to make the programme available to more schools around the UK.

Teachers will be trained to deliver the project in their school, giving them more flexibility in how they manage the programme.

To find out more about the project, contact Helen Bohan, Peer Education Project Manager (hbohan@mentalhealth.org.uk)

"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

This project is generously funded by the Friends of the Foundation and Global's Make Some Noise.