‘Just Do You’ uses celebrity testimonials, music, visual art, peer mentorship, and educational strategies to address young adults’ misconceptions and fears

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Young adults face high risks of disengaging and/or discontinuing their mental health treatment before it can have a therapeutic effect. A recent publication by Dr. Michelle Munson of New York University reports on the outcomes of an innovative approach designed to address this problem, “Just Do You,” The intervention is designed to orient, motivate, empower, and prepare young adults during the intake process to improve their levels of engagement in treatment and downstream recovery.

Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the paper describes the results of a randomized trial of “Just Do You.” To address frequently voiced barriers facing many young adults with serious mental illness living in poverty-impacted communities, “Just Do You” embeds motivational interviewing principles along with music, visual arts, celebrity testimonials, peer mentorship, and psychoeducation as a culturally and developmentally centered way to facilitate conversations about mental health.

Dr. Munson comments that “The goal is to keep young adults who need treatment connected to it long enough for it to have therapeutic effects. It is important to offer services that are culturally and developmentally aligned with the young adults we aim to serve.”

“Just Do You” was developed and refined for over a decade in partnership with young adults; it draws upon communication theory, decision-making theory, social cognitive theory, and the narratives of young people with mental health conditions. Its expressive activities open the door to important discussions on how treatment can be helpful, on how to address the stigma surrounding the use of professional treatment, how to enhance hope, and how to reduce emotional reactions to treatment such as fear, among other topics on participants’ minds.

“Just Do You” is a brief intervention that is delivered in two 90-minute modules. Importantly, the modules are co-facilitated by a licensed clinician and a “Recovery Role Model” who has had lived experiences similar to those of the participants.

Dr. Munson’s evaluation is one of the first to empirically test whether these expressive activities can improve engagement, along with how, or through what mechanisms, such changes occur. The findings are based on 121 study participants between the ages 18 to 34 years old and data collection occurred at baseline and three months. The results suggest that participants who received Just Do You (1) reported high levels of treatment engagement at three months and (2) reported significant positive changes in stigma, perceived credibility of providers, trust in providers, and perceived benefits of treatment.

The evaluation suggests that “Just Do You illustrated feasibility, acceptability and preliminary impact. It represents an innovative meta-intervention that has promise for improving treatment engagement in mental health services among young adults who have a history of poor engagement.”

The project was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The pilot randomized trial was co-designed by Dr. Munson and co-investigator and Silver School professor emeritus, Dr. James Jaccard. The design allowed the research team to assess the effects of “Just Do You” on young adults while also identifying key areas that need further refinement before the start of a larger trial. The next step for Dr. Munson and her team is to widely disseminate the results and revise the intervention based on what has been learned.

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