New research examines the impact of educating adolescents about substance abuse, depression, and anxiety on mental health.
Being a teenager is difficult, and many teenagers find it difficult to manage stress. In addition to mental health struggles, the use and abuse of illicit drugs is also high in this age group. This is dangerous because the brain is still developing until around the age of 25, and substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis can have a negative effect on this process. Recent research is focusing on educating young people about substance abuse and mental health struggles with the intent of promoting awareness and potentially reducing the rates of these conditions. To test the effects of this, an Australian study published in The Lancet looked into whether online classes can help with teenagers’ mental health.
More than six thousand students between the ages of 13 and 14 participated in the study, and they were selected from 71 randomly chosen schools in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Queensland. The students were then divided into four groups: one group received lessons intended to prevent substance use, one group received lessons on depression and anxiety, one group received combined lessons on both topics, and one group did not receive any lessons on these topics.
The lessons on substance use consisted of twelve 20-minute online cartoons each followed by a 20-minute activity in class related to the information delivered in the cartoons. The participants that received lessons on depression and anxiety completed six 40-minute online sessions intended to reduce anxiety and depression. Students completed questionnaires regarding mental health and substance use at the time of the study, as well as six, twelve, 15, 18, 24, and 30 months after the time of the study.
The group that received the combined lessons had increased knowledge of alcohol and cannabis use 12, 24, and 30 months after the study, as well as reduced rates of alcohol use. They also had increased knowledge of mental health struggles 24 months after the study, as well as a reduced increase in symptoms of anxiety between 12 and 30 months after the study. There was no difference in symptoms of depression between groups.
The results of this study suggest that online education about substance use and mental health struggles could potentially increase teenagers’ knowledge of alcohol use, cannabis use, depression, and anxiety. Moreover, they suggest that online education could reduce the risk of adolescent substance use. More research is needed to determine the strength of this correlation.
Written by Avery Bisbee
Depression in teenagers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2020, from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/depression-in-teenagers.
Teesson, M., Newton, N. C., Slade, T., Chapman, C, et al. (2020). Combined prevention for substance use, depression, and anxiety in adolescence: a cluster-randomized controlled trial of a digital online intervention. The Lancet, 19. doi: 10.1016/S2589-7500(19)30213-4
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