Objectives: In an earlier qualitative study we explored the attitudes of young men aged 15-19 (Group A) to mental health and, in particular, to engaging with the various mental health services available. We found that the participants perceived stigma in connection with mental ill health and they displayed particularly strong negative attitudes in relation to both doctors and medication. The investigation was then repeated with students who had been given a short (less than two-hour) programme called ‘Beat the Blues’ (BTB) about mental health (Group B) in order to assess the effect of that exposure by comparing the attitudes of the two groups of students. This present phase of the analysis is a quantitative examination of the written responses by both Groups A and B to an administered questionnaire.
Methods: A total of 42 young men took part in eight focus groups held in boys-only Dublin secondary schools, described in Burke et al. A questionnaire, administered to each participant, examined the students' attitudes to depression and mental illness. The results were analysed by computer using SPSS to search for any trends and any contrasts between groups A and B and among the different socio-economic groups (SEGs) within the sample.
Results: Almost no statistically significant differences were found between groups A and B. However, some differences were found among the SEGs. In particular, very significant differences (p < 0.01 in each case), were found in attitudes towards depression, with increasing support for statements such as “People with depression just need to snap out of it”, “Drinking alcohol can help cure depression” and “Depression is only an excuse for laziness” found among the lower SEGs. A very high percentage of students indicated their desire to talk to someone in times of personal stress; this was almost always their best friend or their mother. However, most students said they would be uncomfortable if a friend raised such a topic.
Conclusion: The main conclusion – that a single exposure to a positive programme about depression produces little or no effect – is hardly unexpected. Nonetheless, there are indications of a great willingness among older secondary students to learn about and discuss mental health issues. Furthermore, the highly negative attitudes among students from the lowest socio-economic group in this study would seem to indicate that the greatest need for education about mental health lies with working-class adolescents. Hence, it is recommended that a programme of multiple interventions be introduced into the senior cycle of secondary education.