Dr. Robert Milin has won the Elaine Schlosser Lewis (ESL) Award for Research on Attention-Deficit Disorder for his study connecting mental health literacy with a reduction in stigma toward mental health issues.
The award is granted by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) to the writer of the best scientific paper in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Dr. Milin, Chair of the Division of Addiction & Mental Health in uOttawa’s Department of Psychiatry, was selected on the strength of his article, “Impact of a Mental Health Curriculum on Knowledge and Stigma Among High School Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial”, published in the May 2016 edition of the prestigious journal.
Involving over 500 high-school students in Ottawa, the study evaluated the effectiveness of a school-based educational program on awareness and attitudes toward mental illness. The first large trial to do so, it showed a positive correlation between mental health literacy and a reduction in stigma toward mental health issues.
The study suggests the importance of early intervention in shaping attitudes toward mental health issues. In designing his study, Dr. Milin targeted an age group in which attitudes and opinions are known to be originating.
“There are windows for certain interventions, and we are learning the best use of resources in those windows,” Dr. Milin explains.
The curriculum was taught by the students’ usual teachers. “Our results speak to how we can approach prevention on a grassroots level to start influencing thoughts and attitudes,” continues Dr. Milin. “You have to do real-world studies to provide evidence of the effectiveness of an intervention. This is what changes attitudes and behaviours.”
He hopes that ultimately, young people experiencing mental health issues are encouraged to seek treatment earlier.
“Most young people needing mental health care do not access or receive services when needed,” the paper points out.
Dr. Milin stresses that changing society’s perceptions of mental illness can enable individuals to feel comfortable in seeking help, and that removing some of the negative attitude breaks down barriers preventing youth from seeking help and accessing services.
“The longer you wait, the greater the morbidity,” remarks Dr. Milin, speaking of the importance of early teachings in the identification and treatment of mental disorders. His team is now working on a follow-up study analyzing students’ attitudes toward help-seeking behavior.
Studies with adult participants haven’t always shown a correlation between knowledge and attitude change.
“We’ve seen youth education to be a promising solution to addressing attitudes toward mental illness,” he observes.
“By teaching kids, we’re not preaching to the converted”.