The Headstogether Help-Seeking Initiative

Developed by Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health.

About The Initiative / Programme

About The Initiative

About The Initiative

Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health has developed a school curriculum-based prevention programme. It is designed in the main for the post-primary school setting, entitled ‘Headstogether’. It aims to promote help-seeking for substance misuse and mental health issues.

Schools are in a unique position to promote mental health and wellbeing and to identify young people experiencing emotional distress (2).

The school setting is recognised as an important context for mental health promotion principally because it reaches a large proportion of our young people today. This emphasis on schools recognises that young people’s exposure to learning health-related knowledge, attitudes and behaviours should begin at an early stage in life.

Early adolescence is characterised by a great time of change and the school setting provides an opportunity to communicate with young people, provide learning opportunities and a safe environment for practising new life skills.

The relationship between mental health and education is significant. It influences young people’s ability to learn, as experiences in school influence the development of their self-esteem, self-efficiacy and health related behaviours. Many young people experience challenges on a regular basis which can impact on their mental health with a number of young people turning to substance use as a coping mechanism for these difficulties. These risky behaviours can have a significant effect on health and wellbeing with particular risks to mental health.

Often young people can require informal support to deal with these issues from parents, peers, siblings or a supportive adult. Some require additional formal supports from more specialised services such as the guidance counsellor, school chaplain, GP, mental health services or drug and alcohol treatment services.

Seeking appropriate help for early signs of mental health difficulties and substance use can reduce the long-term impact that substance use can have on mental health and wellbeing. By supporting young people to seek help early, they are less likely to develop long-term consequences as a result of substance use and related mental health issues.

Help-seeking is a term generally used to refer to the behaviour of actively seeking help from other people. It is widely recognised as providing protection against a variety of mental health risks (3). In the ‘My World Survey’, the first Irish national study on youth mental health, talking about problems was associated with lower mental health distress and higher positive adjustment (4).

However, young people are often apprehensive and reluctant to seek professional help in times of need, relying on peer and parental support; both of which may also be unsure of where or how to seek appropriate help.

Research highlights that young people tend to withdraw from seeking help and very often keep their problems to themselves. Several possibilities have been proposed to explain this pattern among young people including a high reliance on self to solve problems, negative attitudes about seeking help, perceived stigma, accessibility to services, affordability and concerns regarding confidentiality (5).

  • The Headstogether Programme is about teaching young people to support each other to seek help.
  • It aims to decrease the barriers that young people experience when trying to seek help.
  • It promotes help-seeking behaviour in a classroom and school environment.
  • It aims to increase awareness and education among teachers on how to support a young person to seek professional help.
  • It educates parents on how to support their children in accessing professional help for mental health and substance use issues.