New findings published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry show that school-based mental health programs can reach large numbers of children and effectively improve mental health and related outcomes.
Approximately 13 percent of children and teens worldwide have significant mental health problems including anxiety, disruptive behavior disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression. If left untreated, these disorders can remain throughout adulthood and have negative effects in many aspects of life.
A large number of interventions have been designed to deliver preventive mental health services in schools, where children and teens spend so much of their time. Now a growing body of evidence shows that school-based mental health programs can be widely implemented and can lead to population-wide improvements in mental health, physical health, educational, and social outcomes.
For the review, Dr. J. Michael Murphy, EdD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues identified and analyzed school-based mental health programs that have been implemented on a large scale and have collected data on specific mental health outcomes. Their findings show that the eight largest programs have reached at least 27 million children over the last decade.
The programs vary in their focus, methods, and goals. For example, the largest intervention, called “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports” (PBIS), focuses on positive social culture and behavioral support for all students. The second-largest program, called “FRIENDS,” aims to ease anxiety and teach skills for managing stress and emotions — not only for children, but also for parents and teachers.
While some of the school-based mental health interventions target students at high risk of mental health problems, most are designed to focus on mental health promotion or primary prevention for all students in the school. Most of the programs have been implemented across school districts, while some have been introduced on the state or national level.
Evidence is “moderate to strong” that these interventions are successful in contributing to good mental health and related outcomes. For example, studies of FRIENDS have reported reductions in anxiety, while PBIS has shown improved reading scores and fewer school suspensions.
Other interventions have shown benefits in areas such as bullying and substance abuse.
“This review provides evidence that large-scale, school-based programs can be implemented in a variety of diverse cultures and educational models as well as preliminary evidence that such programs have significant, measurable positive effects on students’ emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes,” write the researchers.
“Data sets of increasing quality and size are opening up new opportunities to assess the degree to which preventive interventions for child mental health, delivered at scale, can play a role in improving health and other life outcomes,” said Murphy and colleagues.
With ongoing data collection and new evaluation frameworks, they believe that school-based mental health programs have the potential to “improve population-wide health outcomes of the next generation.”
Source: Wolters Klewer Health