An Independent Evaluation Conducted by Dr. Michael S. Kelly PhD, LCSW
Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work in Collaboration with Erika’s Lighthouse
Fall 2013-Spring 2015
Erika’s Lighthouse (EL) was formed in June 2004 to address the issues of childhood and adolescent depression and suicide. The organization is composed of adults and teens, who seek to educate school communities about childhood and adolescent depression, reduce the impact of stigma, remove the barriers to treatment and protect young lives. Real Teenagers Talking About Adolescent Depression: A Video-Based Study Guide (hereafter referred to as RTTAAD) was created by EL as a universal intervention for 8th through 10th grade classroom environments (RTTAAD, 2015). The purpose of RTTAAD is to increase student knowledge about depression, reduce stigma surrounding depression and increase the likelihood that students with depression will seek help. The program content is based on evidence-based research of childhood and adolescent depression. RTTAAD has been a program at EL since 2011. To date, it has been implemented in 58 schools, religious institutions and health care settings.
Though the program is popular and has numerous anecdotal examples testifying to its impact and effectiveness, to date no formal evaluation of RTTAAD has been conducted. The EL team asked Dr. Kelly to help them construct a feasible and rigorous effectiveness study of RTTAAD to examine its impact.
The main objectives of the evaluation were to examine the effects of RTTAAD on high school health students in the areas of knowledge about depression, willingness to seek help from adults and belief that adults can help. In Fall 2014, two Chicago suburban high schools agreed to be part of the RTTAAD intervention study. Both schools agreed to have the program delivered to health students via their school health classes. In both schools, a pre/post-test wait-list control quasi-experimental design was used. The pre-test was delivered to both the RTTAAD groups and the control groups at the same time and each condition received the post-test at 6 weeks after the RTTAAD intervention. Each student in the study (total N=652) completed a questionnaire that incorporated a depression knowledge scale created by the EL team and two additional standardized scales, the Help-Seeking Acceptability at School Scale (Wyman et al., 2008) and the Adult Help for Suicidal Youth Scale (Schmeelk-Cone et al., 2012).
Based on independent sample t-test analysis of the pre and post-tests for the RTTAAD and Control classrooms, the following preliminary conclusions can be drawn from the data:
1) RTTAAD increased student knowledge of depression based on the depression knowledge scale created from EL’s expertise.
2) RTTAAD increased students’ willingness to seek help from trusted adults at school for depression and other mental health problems.
3) RTTAAD increased students’ belief that adults could help one of their friends who was suicidal.
4) RTTAAD produced significant change in terms of students learning about symptoms of depression, positive ways to enhance their own mental health, the impact of stigma on help-seeking for people who have depression and warning signs of fellow students who may be suicidal.
RTTAAD had a clear and statistically significant impact on key areas of depression awareness/suicide prevention for health students in the RTTAAD condition compared to the control group condition.
This evaluation locates RTTAAD within the depression awareness/suicide prevention literature as a promising intervention that certainly merits further investigation, particularly for adolescents (Klimes-Dougan, Klingbeil, & Meller, 2013; Petrova et al., 2015; Whitlock, Wyman, & Moore, 2014). With a focus on creating a consistent, safe and interactive space for young people, RTTAAD has built on the longstanding expertise of Erika’s Lighthouse and this evaluation clearly shows that those efforts to develop and refine the intervention have been fruitful. Based on the data described here, RTTAAD demonstrates strong potential as an intervention that builds an awareness of what depression in teenagers looks like, how teens can recognize symptoms in themselves and/or their friends and how they can identify and eventually turn to trusted adults at school to help themselves or a friend.
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