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A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Evaluation of a Universal Healthy Relationships Promotion Program for Youth

Introduction

Mental health in adolescents is an important topic for research. Bullying, substance abuse, and adverse childhood experiences can substantially impact young people’s mental health and well-being and affect their adult life. Many mental health care programs aimed at teenagers are currently being implemented. However, most of them focus on a single issue without considering other problems the participants may have. This essay will discuss and analyze a research article describing a small group program focused on preventing bullying and decreasing substance abuse among adolescents. The study in question hypothesizes that the program positively affects teenagers’ mental health and reduces substance abuse and odds of victimization in the participants.

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Background

The research in question focused on the evaluation of the Healthy Relationships Plus (HRP) program. HRP is a health promotion and harm reduction strategy for various adverse health outcomes in adolescence (Exner-Cortens et al., 2019). The health outcomes the program focuses on include mental health issues, verbal and non-verbal bullying, and alcohol and illicit substances misuse (Exner-Cortens et al., 2019). The HRP strategy aims to teach the participants aged 14-18 communication skills necessary to resist social pressure and adversity and the importance of self-efficacy (Exner-Cortens et al., 2019). It concentrates on small groups of adolescents to address each participant’s issues and teach them appropriate coping skills. In the discussed study, the authors attempted to evaluate HRP’s effectiveness and its long-term effect on teenagers’ mental health, victimization, and substance abuse. The research in question was carried out in Ontario, Canada.

Purpose of the Study

The study aimed to evaluate the HRP program and its impact on the participants and their psychological well-being. Specifically, the researchers intended to assess the program’s impact on the occurrence of bullying victimization and perpetration during the 12 months after its completion. The authors also focused on its effect on the substance misuse displayed by the participants. Only the misuse of alcohol and marijuana were examined, with the adolescents not being asked about the use of any other substance.

Research Method

The researchers employed the randomized controlled trial method to evaluate the effectiveness of the HPR program. The recruited students were randomly divided into seven treatment and seven control groups. Pupils’ age, sex, and school were used as stratification variables before the randomization. All the participants were pre-tested before the course’s beginning and post-tested immediately after its conclusion. The follow-up evaluations took place at four, eight, and 12-month marks. Thus, mental health outcomes were measured with the Mental Health Continuum–Short Form that evaluates the emotional, psychological, and social well-being (Exner-Cortens et al., 2019). The bullying Evaluation and Strategies Tool was implemented to measure the participants’ experience with physical and verbal abuse (Exner-Cortens et al., 2019). In addition, the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey was used to assess the misuse of alcohol and marijuana by the participants (Exner-Cortens et al., 2019). All the evaluations were conducted online and sent to the students via email.

Sample and Ethical Considerations

The sample was recruited from five high schools in Ontario, Canada, with the authors being approached by the schools’ administrators. The study was advertised to the prospective participants by the guidance counselors in the schools. Only the students in the ninth and tenth grades were eligible to take part in the research. The average age of the participants was 15.53 for the treatment group and 15.49 for the control group. Overall, 222 adolescents were recruited, with approximately two-thirds of the participants being female. The pupils were enlisted to join the program on the condition of being available for 12-months after its completion. However, only 192 participants completed the year-long evaluation, with most of those enrolled in the study quitting it after the 8-month follow-up.

Any research should ensure the protection of the rights of its human subjects. In this case, the participants were all under 18 years of age and could not legally give informed consent. Therefore, the authors sought parental consent from the parents and guardians of the participants. Both the students and their parents were given information packages, notifying them about the study’s purposes and significance. All the adolescents taking part in the assessment were compensated for their involvement.

Research Findings

The main findings only partially confirm the hypotheses of the positive effect of the program on mental health, lower odds of victimization, and reduced substance abuse. The researchers note that the participants experienced significantly fewer instances of bullying. According to Exner-Cortens et al. (2019), a lower probability of abuse occurred due to the participants being more inclined to seek help from professionals. Nevertheless, the study failed to prove that HPR has a long-term positive effect on adolescents’ psychological well-being. The authors note that the lack of a meaningful impact on mental health may be attributed to the participants’ overall psychological well-being at the start of the program (Exner-Cortens et al., 2019). There was no significant effect on the adolescents’ use of marijuana, and the probability of binge drinking in the 12 months after the completion of HRP increased slightly. Exner-Cortens et al. (2019) point out that an increase in drinking is expected in that age group. Nevertheless, even with the expected developmental interest in alcohol consumption, the program failed to deliver an effective drinking intervention.

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Research Limitations

The authors of the article point out that there are certain limitations to their research. The main one is the small sample size, which prevents the generalizability of the results. It is noted that the time of the implementation of the study had a significant effect on the researchers’ ability to secure a larger sample, as recruitment was carried out over the summer months. Another limitation is the disproportionate recruitment of girls over boys and the researchers not considering non-binary individuals. Exner-Cortens et al. (2019) state that the participants were asked only about their gender at birth, and not how they may identify themselves. This oversight is a significant drawback as adolescents struggling with their identity may have different experiences, both with bullying and substance abuse. Furthermore, the program was delivered over a shorter period of time than usual, and its compressed nature might have influenced the study results.

Conclusion

Overall, the mental health and well-being of adolescents are of utmost importance. It is essential to ensure that teenagers experiencing bullying and struggling with substance misuse have access to effective programs aimed at improving their psychological well-being and teaching them useful coping skills. The research in question evaluated the Healthy Relationships Plus program aimed at adolescents aged 14 to 18. The authors hypothesized that HRP has a substantial positive impact on the participants’ mental health, reduces their alcohol consumption and marijuana use, and reduces the chances of bullying victimization. Overall, only the latter hypothesis was proved due to several limitations of the study.

Reference

Exner-Cortens, D., Wolfe, D., Crooks, C. V., & Chiodo, D. (2019). A preliminary randomized controlled evaluation of a universal healthy relationships promotion program for youth. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 35(1), 3-22. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, April 14). A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Evaluation of a Universal Healthy Relationships Promotion Program for Youth. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/a-preliminary-randomized-controlled-evaluation-of-a-universal-healthy-relationships-promotion-program-for-youth/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, April 14). A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Evaluation of a Universal Healthy Relationships Promotion Program for Youth. https://studycorgi.com/a-preliminary-randomized-controlled-evaluation-of-a-universal-healthy-relationships-promotion-program-for-youth/

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StudyCorgi. "A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Evaluation of a Universal Healthy Relationships Promotion Program for Youth." April 14, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/a-preliminary-randomized-controlled-evaluation-of-a-universal-healthy-relationships-promotion-program-for-youth/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Evaluation of a Universal Healthy Relationships Promotion Program for Youth." April 14, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/a-preliminary-randomized-controlled-evaluation-of-a-universal-healthy-relationships-promotion-program-for-youth/.

References

StudyCorgi. (2022) 'A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Evaluation of a Universal Healthy Relationships Promotion Program for Youth'. 14 April.

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