New Study Finds with Volunteer Mentors, Higher-Risk Youth Have Fewer Depressive Symptoms

New Study Finds with Volunteer Mentors, Higher-Risk Youth Have Fewer Depressive Symptoms

Tuesday, March 12, 2013, Philadelphia, PA – About a year after being paired with mentors, youth evaluated in a recent study —many of whom had multiple risk factors for delinquency, school failure, teen pregnancy and mental health problems — had fewer symptoms of depression.

The young people were part of the first large-scale evaluation to assess how mentoring affects “higher-risk” youth. Noted mentoring researchers, Carla Herrera, David DuBois and Jean Grossman studied more than 1,300 youth enrolled in seven Washington State mentoring programs, including five Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies. Washington State Mentors served as the intermediary for the study.

Youth with mentors, compared to those without mentors who faced similar challenges, improved in their social competence, academic attitudes and grades. The strongest findings were related to decreases in symptoms of depression—an especially noteworthy outcome given that nearly one in four youth in the study reported high levels of depressive symptoms before being matched with mentors.

“Depression has been linked to a host of short- and long-term problems for young people, including suicidal behavior, academic and social difficulties, and increased risk for substance abuse and teen pregnancy,” the researchers reported. “The study’s findings offer robust evidence that participation in volunteer-centered, one-to-one, community-based mentoring programs can ameliorate and/or prevent the emergence of depressive symptoms,” they added.

“When young people face multiple life challenges, their families and communities suffer as well,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters of America President and CEO Charles Pierson. “While a number of studies have found that one-to-one mentoring helps ‘at-risk’ children, this new research provides important insights about the impact of our work on youth who face a range of issues, including those who face higher levels and severity of risk factors.”

The study revealed the importance of careful screening for mental health concerns at intake, in combination with referral mechanisms for those who are in need of additional support. Of note, the researchers found that while mentoring programs are successful at reaching youth with lower-risk profiles, they are also able to reach those who meet the “higher-risk” threshold, without significant efforts beyond their normal recruitment strategies.

The study found mentors who received early-match training and consistent phone support met more frequently and had longer-lasting relationships with their mentees. Youth whose mentors received in-person group training also reported higher-quality relationships. The researchers noted that offering tailored training and support to mentors, mentees and families based on the specific risks youth face has the potential to produce even stronger benefits.

About Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brothers Big Sisters, the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, holds itself accountable for children in its program to achieve measurable outcomes, such as educational success; avoidance of risky behaviors; and higher aspirations, greater confidence and better relationships. Partnering with parents/guardians, schools, corporations and others in the community, Big Brothers Big Sisters carefully pairs children (“Littles”) with screened volunteer mentors (“Bigs”) and monitors and supports these one-to-one mentoring matches throughout their course. The first-ever Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Summary, released in 2012, substantiates that its mentoring programs have proven, positive academic, socio-emotional and behavioral outcomes for youth, areas linked to high school graduation, avoidance of juvenile delinquency and college or job readiness.

Big Brothers Big Sisters provides children facing adversity, often those of single or low-income households or families where a parent is incarcerated or serving in the military, with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. This mission has been the cornerstone of the organization’s 100-year history. With about 350 agencies across the country, Big Brothers Big Sisters serves nearly 630,000 children, volunteers and families. The organization is engaged in a nationwide search to reunite with alumni mentors, mentees, donors, and family, staff and board members. Learn more at