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Open Access Research article

Does a short-term intervention promote mental and general health among young adults? – An evaluation of counselling

Regina Winzer1* and Agneta Bergsten Brucefors2

Author Affiliations

1 Swedish National Institute of Public Health, SE-831 40 Östersund, Sweden

2 Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge and Karolinska Institutet, SE-141 86 Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:319  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-319

Published: 8 November 2007

Abstract

Background

Since 1988, self-reported mental health problems in Sweden have increased more among young people than in any other age group. Young adults aged 18 – 29 with minor mental health problems were welcomed to four (at most) counselling sessions led by psychotherapists. The present study aimed to evaluate the method's appropriateness and usefulness.

Methods

The study population was recruited consecutively during six months (N = 74) and consisted of 59 women and 15 men. Fifty-one, 46 women and five men, met the criterion for a personal semi-structured interview three months post intervention. Self-assessed health data were collected on three occasions using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), Pearlin's Personal Mastery Scale and two items from the Swedish Living Conditions Surveys. Thirteen women and six men were not statistically assessed due to incomplete data, but were interviewed by telephone. Four men refused to be interviewed and became dropouts.

Results

The largest group of the study population had long been troubled by their problem(s): 43 percent for over three years and 28 percent for over one year. Among those personally interviewed, 76 percent reported psychological distress (> 3 GHQ points) before the counselling. After the counselling, GHQ-12 distress decreased by 50 percent while mastery and perceived health status increased significantly. A majority experienced an improved life situation, found out something new about themselves and could make use of the sessions afterwards. Personal participant session contentment was about 70 percent and all counsellees would recommend the intervention to a friend. Those interviewed by telephone were not statistically assessed due to incomplete health data. Their personal contentment was just under 50 percent, though all except one would recommend the counselling to a friend. Their expectations of the intervention were more result-orientated compared to the more process-directed personally-interviewed group.

Conclusion

This evaluation shows a clear improvement in self-rated mental and general health, mastery and control in the group completing the study agreement. The intervention seems to be effective for young adults with minor mental health problems, but due to the skewed gender-distribution it is unclear if the method is appropriate for men. After the proposed internal quality improvements, this short-term counselling could enhance mental and general health among young people.