An experimental study exploring the impact of vignette gender on the quality of university students’ mental health first aid for peers with symptoms of depression

Davies, E. Bethan, Wardlaw, John, Morriss, Richard K. and Glazebrook, Cris (2016) An experimental study exploring the impact of vignette gender on the quality of university students’ mental health first aid for peers with symptoms of depression. BMC Public Health, 16 . 187/1-187/11. ISSN 1471-2458

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University students have high rates of depression, and friends are often the most commonly-used source of support for emotional distress in this population. This study aimed to explore students’ ability to provide effective support for their peers with depressive symptoms and the factors influencing the quality of their mental health first aid (MHFA) skills, including students’ gender, course of study, and gender of student experiencing depression.


Via an online survey, students at two British universities (N = 483) were quasi-randomly allocated to view a video vignette of either a male or female student depicting symptoms of depression. An open-ended question probed MHFA actions they would take to help the vignette character, which were rated using a standardised scoring scheme based on MHFA guidelines.


Students reported low MHFA scores (mean 2.89, out of possible 12). The most commonly reported action was provision of support and information, but only eight (1.6 %) students stated an intention to assess risk of harm. Those studying clinically non-relevant degrees with limited mental health content reported poorer MHFA (p = <0.001) and were less confident about their ability to support a friend with depression (p = 0.04). There was no main effect of vignette gender, but within the group of students on non-relevant courses the male vignette received significantly poorer MHFA than the female vignette (p = 0.02). A significant three-way interaction found that male participants studying non-relevant degrees who viewed a male vignette had poorer MHFA compared to females studying non-relevant degrees who viewed the female vignette (p = 0.005).


Most students lack the necessary MHFA skills to support friends suffering from symptoms of depression, or to help them get appropriate support and prevent risk of harm. Students on courses which do not include mental health related content are particularly ill-equipped to support male students, with male students receiving the poorest quality MHFA from fellow male students on these courses. MHFA training has the potential to improve outcomes for students with depression, and could have a valuable role in reducing the excess risk of harm seen in male students.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Mental health literacy, Mental health first aid, Helping behaviours, Depression, University students, Peer support
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Medicine > Division of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Eprints, Support
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2016 11:48
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2017 08:00

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