What is the minimum amount of training and support we can provide community-based mentors to encourage youth to practice evidence-based mental health skills in their day-to-day lives?
Mentoring programs, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBS), primarily serve under-resourced youth whose families rely on these programs to provide their children with mental health and academic support services. Although mentors are equipped to build relationships with their mentees, they are not adequately trained to provide targeted psychological and behavioral health support to this population that needs it most. Evidence-based, technology-delivered interventions (TDIs) offer an adaptable approach to mentoring that provides mentors with more concrete and targeted skills to support youth mental health. While smartphone applications for the treatment of mental health and academic problems have been tested and disseminated with generally positive impacts, these TDIs lack in user engagement when youth are left to work through their problems on their own. On the other hand, when traditional face-to-face mentoring and added coaching, also known as supportive accountability, are incorporated into mental health app usage, youth engagement increases. Thus, a promising solution is to provide mentors with concrete skills and knowledge about how to utilize supportive accountability and promote targeted skills practice via the MentorHub app to support their mentees’ mental health.

The SAMMY (Supportive Accountability Methods for Mentoring Youth) intervention has been developed by researchers from Dr. Jean Rhodes’s Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Dr. Colleen Conley’s IMPACT Lab at Loyola University Chicago, and Dr. Elizabeth Raposa’s Raposa Lab at Fordham University. For this feasibility and acceptability trial, we have partnered with a youth mentoring program (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee; BBBS-MT) to recruit mentor-mentee pairs. Mentors undergo a brief virtual training, after which dyads proceed with mentoring paired with MentorHub with the goal of reducing the mentee’s mental health challenges. Mentees (ages 13-17) complete brief assessments of mental health, well-being, and general functioning at pre- and post-treatment through the 12-week study, and both mentors and mentees complete a weekly social validity scale pertaining to the app. During the intervention, mentors help mentees practice the intervention skills learned through the app via weekly mentoring meetings. This model extends youth’s passive learning of skills through the app by incorporating a supportive adult to help them practice these skills in their day-to-day lives and to hold them accountable to doing so. The mentoring relationship thus provides a setting for supervised practice of skills. This research project directly impacts the lives of underserved youth by providing a free TDI within the context of their youth mentoring relationship.