Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A school intervention for mental health literacy in adolescents: effects of a non-randomized cluster controlled trial

Ingunn Skre1*, Oddgeir Friborg12, Camilla Breivik13, Lars Inge Johnsen14, Yngvild Arnesen13 and Catharina Elisabeth Arfwedson Wang1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway

2 Psychiatric Research Centre, University Hospital of North Norway, Tromsø, Norway

3 Clinic for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, University Hospital of North Norway, Tromsø, Norway

4 Family Health Services, Mandal Municipality, Mandal, Norway

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:873  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-873

Published: 23 September 2013



“Mental health for everyone” is a school program for mental health literacy and prevention aimed at secondary schools (13–15 yrs). The main aim was to investigate whether mental health literacy, could be improved by a 3-days universal education programme by: a) improving naming of symptom profiles of mental disorder, b) reducing prejudiced beliefs, and c) improving knowledge about where to seek help for mental health problems. A secondary aim was to investigate whether adolescent sex and age influenced the above mentioned variables. A third aim was to investigate whether prejudiced beliefs influenced knowledge about available help.


This non-randomized cluster controlled trial included 1070 adolescents (53.9% boys, M age14 yrs) from three schools in a Norwegian town. One school (n = 520) received the intervention, and two schools (n = 550) formed the control group. Pre-test and follow-up were three months apart. Linear mixed models and generalized estimating equations models were employed for analysis.


Mental health literacy improved contingent on the intervention, and there was a shift towards suggesting primary health care as a place to seek help. Those with more prejudiced beleifs did not suggest places to seek help for mental health problems. Generally, girls and older adolescents recognized symptom profiles better and had lower levels of prejudiced beliefs.


A low cost general school program may improve mental health literacy in adolescents. Gender specific programs and attention to the age and maturity of the students should be considered when mental health literacy programmes are designed and tried out. Prejudice should be addressed before imparting information about mental health issues.

Adolescents; Universal intervention; Mental health literacy; Prejudice