Toolkit on Effective Mentoring for Youth
Facing Barriers to Success

Best practices and resources to build, strengthen, evaluate and sustain effective mentoring programs for youth considered at high-risk of under education, unemployment, homelessness, criminalization, and other negative outcomes.

Youth with Mental Health Needs

Key Lessons

  • Less information is available on effective mentoring for youth with mental health needs. This is a clear gap in our current understanding of best practices in mentoring.
  • Providing mentoring as part of a treatment plan and/or in conjunction with mental health professionals is preferable. Youth with mental health needs may have unique experiences, assets, and challenges that go beyond the capacity of the mentor.1, 3, 6
  • Mentors should understand that their role is to provide support and friendship – as opposed to being counsellors – as they are not trained mental health professionals.6
  • Mentors may require more intensive training based on the needs of their mentee, including how to respond to crisis situations.1

Existing Tools & Resources

Building a better school environment for youth with mental health and addiction issues:

Effective Mentoring for Youth with Mental Health Needs


Standards & Good Practices (linked to positive outcomes for participants)

Other Pertinent Info (from other studies & reports)

Program Planning

Mentoring interventions should be offered in conjunction with current treatment plans for youth with mental health needs as opposed to replacing those services; coordinating mentoring efforts with a treatment team could be a better model for mentoring than traditional models.1



A peer mentorship program for youth with mental health needs was recommended by a youth advisory committee on mental health.6

Traditional models of mentoring programs cannot necessarily meet the needs of youth involved with or leaving the mental health system.1

Refer to Youth with Mental Health Needs resource for examples of mentoring programs for youth with mental health needs.1

Program Implementation

Youth with mental health needs may require more intensive support in mentoring, so mental health professionals should deliver the mentoring programs to ensure safety and staff should be aware of available mental health supports and refer youth and their caregivers to these services where appropriate.1, 3, 6

Youth with mental health needs may not be well suited to a group mentoring model as youth with higher needs may require more attention from their mentors, thus one-on-one mentoring is recommended.1

Formal peer mentoring models for youth with mental health needs are not recommended.1


Some positive findings have been uncovered by research about youth with mental health needs, namely:

  • Psychosocial outcomes for youth with no previous diagnosed issues are more likely to be positive if the individual had a natural (non-parent) mentor.
  • One study’s outcomes indicated that “natural mentoring relationships moderate the relationship between stress and depression” (p. 44).
  • Mentors can help youth experiencing mental health needs by advocating for them, supporting them to begin treatment, and ensuring they adhere to and stay in treatment.
  • Transitioning to adulthood can be very stressful and challenging for youth who have mental health or substance use issues. These challenges can be mitigated by having support of an adult role model who can help them with decision-making and problem solving.1, 3, 4

Mentor Recruitment, Screening & Selection

Mentors should be screened carefully to ensure they have the skills, are committed to the role and understand the expectations of the program to ensure the young person does not experience further rejection.1

Mentor Training

Mentors for youth with mental health needs could benefit from more intensive training than typical mentoring programs and access to the contacts for emergency mental health services and program staff in case they need to support during crises.1

During training, the role of mentors should be clearly explained, so that mentors (who are not trained mental health professionals) do not feel they have to provide counselling for their mentees.6

Mental health issues may emerge throughout the time in the program, so mentors should receive ongoing crisis intervention to support their mentees through these issues.5

Matching Process

Mentors who share life experiences with their mentees may be seen as more credible and thus developing relationships with their mentees may be easier.2

Mentoring Relationship Development

The most supportive mentoring relationships for youth with mental health needs were characterized by:

  1. Consistency and availability
  2. Connectedness and caring
  3. Empathy
  4. Meaningful conversations
  5. Reciprocal relationships
  6. Complete acceptance
  7. Emotional support to help manage symptoms
  8. Encouragement
  9. Informational support and advice5


  1. Kerr, D. C. R., & King, C. A. (2013). Youth with mental health needs. In DuBois, D. L., & Karcher, M. J. (Eds.), Handbook of Youth Mentoring (pp. 325-341). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  2. MENTOR. (2015). Elements of effective practice for mentoring, 4th ed. Retrieved from
  3. Rosenberg, L. (2008). Building a meaningful future for young people with mental illness. Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 35(4), 362-364.
  4. Hurd, N., & Zimmerman, M. (2010). Natural mentors, mental health, and risk behaviors: A longitudinal analysis of African American adolescents transitioning into adulthood. American Journal of Community Psychology, 46(1-2), 36-48.
  5. Munson, M. R., Brown, S., Spencer, R., Edguer, M., & Tracy, E. (2015). Supportive relationships among former system youth with mental health challenges. Journal of Adolescent Research, 30(4), 501-529.
  6. Leahy, M., & Robb, C. (2013). Building a better school environment for youth with mental health and addiction issues. The New Mentality, & Children’s Mental Health Ontario. Retrieved from
Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services