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Title: "She's my best friend and I trust her with my life" : a mixed-methods exploration of peer support for personal problems in adolescence and how schools can help
Author: Holyoak, F.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7969 5684
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2019
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Research has shown that when young people experience difficulties in their lives, they rely on their friends for support. In the context of an increasing awareness of young people's mental health, this study examined the phenomenon of peer support among adolescents for personal problems, including serious problems relating to mental ill health. The aims of the study were to: • explore how adolescent peers support one another with personal problems, including mental illness; • explore why adolescents might prefer to disclose personal problems to peers; • explore adolescents' perceptions of school-based peer support interventions (PSIs); and • inform the future development and implementation of a PSI which adolescents perceive to be useable and effective. The research comprised two phases. Taking a pragmatist approach, I used a combination of traditionally quantitative and qualitative research methods. Phase 1 comprised a confirmatory methodology, using a self-administered questionnaire delivered to 390 Year 9 students at three secondary schools in a local authority in the West Midlands. Data were analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics and basic content analysis. Part A of the questionnaire elicited data to answer research questions relating to disclosures of personal problems that the participants had received from peers. The results showed that a high proportion of participants regularly discuss problems with peers across a range of domains. The participants had experienced disclosures of problems from friends both online and face-to-face, with females reporting a higher proportion of face-to-face disclosures than males. Part B of the questionnaire presented vignettes of a peer disclosing a difficulty relating to mental illness: depression, anxiety, or self-harm. Each vignette was followed by questions to elicit participants' responses to the disclosure. Participants generally responded positively. Two thirds of the participants encouraged the friend to tell an adult about the problem, and half asked the friends experiencing depression or self-harm if they had considered suicide. The most commonly reported action was to tell an adult: Family members and school staff were the most frequently specified adults. Participants were moderately confident in responding to the vignettes. Phase 2 comprised an exploratory methodology, using a qualitative research approach: six focus groups with Year 9 students (N = 32) at three secondary schools. In the focus groups, the participants discussed the advantages and disadvantages of three types of PSI, facilitated by the researcher. They were also asked to discuss why they might choose to disclose a problem to a friend, rather than an adult. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Participants considered the following things when deciding in whom to confide a personal problem: confidentiality, motivation for listening to the problem, understanding of the problem, and feeling comfortable around the disclosee. They reported that PSIs should: be age-appropriate, confidential, and well-used; have a broad impact; involve a high quality of support; avoid unintended negative consequences; and respect the wishes of some young people not to share their problems. Links are made between the two phases, and implications for schools and educational psychologists are considered. The thesis concludes with future directions for study, and the relevance of the findings for the mental health of young people in secondary schools.
Supervisor: Norwich, B. ; Tunbridge, M. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: adolescence ; mental health ; peer support ; personal problems ; help-seeking ; mental health first aid ; peer support intervention ; self-disclosure