Experiences of integrating a psychological intervention into a youth-led empowerment program targeting out-of-school adolescents, in urban informal settlements in Kenya: A qualitative study

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Introduction: Depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders are the leading causes of illness and disability in adolescents. This study aims to evaluate the feasibility of integrating mental health services into a youth-led community-based intervention targeting out-of-school adolescents, residing in Kariobangi and Rhonda informal settlements in Kenya. Method: Youth mentors were trained on the Bridging the Gaps (BTG) curriculum that integrated a modified version of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Problem Management Plus (PM+) psychological intervention into a sexual health, life-skills and financial education curriculum. Community lay mentors facilitated 72 weekly group sessions for 469 adolescent boys and girls, augmented with five enhanced one-on-one treatment sessions for those displaying signs of psychological distress. Adolescents displaying severe signs of psychological distress were referred directly to a primary health facility or connected to specialist services. A qualitative survey took place between February and March 2022, around four months before the end of the program. In-depth interviews were carried out with 44 adolescents, 7 partners, 19 parents and 11 stakeholders. Four focus group discussions were carried out with 17 mentors. Respondents were purposively selected to be interviewed based on their level of exposure to the intervention and ability to provide in-depth experiences. Themes focused on the program’s perceived effectiveness, ability to develop the capacity of lay mentors to address mental health issues, and increased access to mental health services. Results: Adolescents reported that the intervention was able to improve their confidence in speaking up about their problems, equip them with essential first-aid skills to manage and treat anxiety or mild depression, provide them access to free one-on-one psychological help sessions, and increase their social network. Mentors were able to adhere to the core principles of psychological intervention delivery, providing preventative and treatment-focused psychosocial services. Furthermore, parents reported experiencing improved adolescent receptivity to parental suggestions or advice leading to improved parent-adolescent relationships. Mentors referred adolescents for a variety of reasons including severe mental illness, rape, and alcohol and substance use however, the high cost of transport was the main barrier limiting adolescents from following through with their referrals. Conclusion: The findings demonstrate that integration of mental health services into community-based interventions is feasible and has benefits for adolescents, parents, and mentors.


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