Ohio State University

MindSTRONG-STRONGChoices: Evidence-based Solutions to Save a Generation of Youth

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Mental health disorders, suicide and sexual risk-taking behaviors are leading public health epidemics in adolescents and young adults that threaten their overall health, academic success and a lifetime of productivity. To curtail these epidemics, this project will swiftly scale two evidence-based educational and skills building programs, MindSTRONG-STRONGChoices, to millions of students across U.S. universities, community colleges and high schools. Findings from rigorous studies have supported the positive outcomes that result from delivery of these two nationally recognized programs to youth from diverse racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, including: reductions in depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, sexual risk behaviors and pregnancy; increases in healthy lifestyle behaviors; and improvements in academic performance. Widely scaling the MindSTRONG-STRONGChoices interventions to address priority interconnected risks to the health and well-being of an entire generation is bold and critically needed to reverse the rapidly growing prevalence of mental health disorders, suicide, HIV/STIs, and unplanned pregnancy across the U.S.

Problem Statement

Mental health disorders/suicide and sexual risk-taking behaviors are two public health epidemics in adolescents and young adults that threaten their overall health and academic success, and have long-term adverse consequences for the rest of adult life. These years represent a time of increased stress, anxiety, and depression, bombardment with independent decision making, less supervised opportunities for sexual behaviors, and exposure to new partners and substance use. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, costing the U.S. economy $210 billion annually in lost productivity. The cost of mental disorders in 2030 is projected to be more than diabetes and cancer combined. Anxiety disorders affect one in three young adults. Sixty-four percent of young adults who are no longer in school are not attending because of a mental health problem. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in youth. One thousand college students take their lives each year and more than half have had suicidal thoughts. Risk for HIV/STIs and unplanned pregnancy remain a major cause of youth morbidity. Youth ages 15 to 24 account for half of all STI diagnoses in the U.S. Unplanned pregnancy also can be a major deterrent to continued enrollment and on-time academic completion. Bold, preventive, durable evidence-based solutions that target these complex health issues by teaching cognitive-behavioral and sexual risk reduction skills in a format ready to scale for this vulnerable population are desperately needed throughout the country to curtail these two public health epidemics and save a generation of youth.

Solution Overview

This project will rapidly scale two manualized evidence-based programs to millions of college and underserved high school students by training thousands of facilitators from college campuses across the U.S. to deliver MindSTRONG-STRONGChoices. The MindSTRONG program (known as COPE in the literature) is recognized by the NIH as a Research-Tested Intervention Program (RTIP); and STRONGChoices (known as HIPTeens in the literature) is a CDC/Department of Health and Human Services recognized HIV/STI/Pregnancy prevention intervention. MindSTRONG is a seven-session cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)-based intervention that decreases anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, and enhances academic performance and healthy behaviors in adolescents and college-age youth. The program has been supported as efficacious in 16 studies and can be delivered by teachers and professionals other than mental health providers. STRONGChoices is an evidence-based sexual risk reduction intervention for HIV, STI and teen pregnancy prevention. It is a brief four-session manualized program provided by paraprofessionals or professionals that has been shown to be effective in reducing multiple sexual risk behaviors (i.e., reduction of sexual partners, reduction in unprotected vaginal sex and total sex acts, increase in sexual abstinence, decrease in pregnancy rates). Scaling these interventions to address priority interconnected risks to the health and well-being of college and high-school students is bold and critically needed to curtail the growing prevalence of mental health disorders/suicide and HIV/STIs/unplanned pregnancy. Broad impact in this large population of vulnerable youth will be documented by rigorously tracking data from the ACHA college survey and rates of mental health disorders and sexual risk outcomes.

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