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With the burden of mental illness estimated to be costing the English economy alone around £22.5 billion a year , coupled with growing evidence that many mental disorders have their origins in adolescence, there is increasing pressure for schools to address the emotional well-being of their students, alongside the stigma and discrimination of mental illness. A number of prior educational interventions have been developed and evaluated for this purpose, but inconsistency of findings, reporting standards, and methodologies have led the majority of reviewers to conclude that the evidence for the efficacy of these programmes remains inconclusive.
A cluster randomised controlled trial design has been employed to enable a feasibility study of 'SchoolSpace', an intervention in 7 UK secondary schools addressing stigma of mental illness, mental health literacy, and promotion of mental health. A central aspect of the intervention involves students in the experimental condition interacting with a young person with lived experience of mental illness, a stigma reducing technique designed to facilitate students' engagement in the project. The primary outcome is the level of stigma related to mental illness. Secondary outcomes include mental health literacy, resilience to mental illness, and emotional well-being. Outcomes will be measured pre and post intervention, as well as at 6 month follow-up.
The proposed intervention presents the potential for increased engagement due to its combination of education and contact with a young person with lived experience of mental illness. Contact as a technique to reduce discrimination has been evaluated previously in research with adults, but has been employed in only a minority of research trials investigating the impact on youth. Prior to this study, the effect of contact on mental health literacy, resilience, and emotional well-being has not been evaluated to the authors' knowledge. If efficacious the intervention could provide a reliable and cost-effective method to reduce stigma in young people, whilst increasing mental health literacy, and emotional well-being.