Problem-solving (PS) has been identified as a therapeutic technique found in multiple evidence-based treatments for depression. To further understand for whom and how this intervention works, we undertook a systematic review of the evidence for PS's effectiveness in preventing and treating depression among adolescents and young adults. We searched electronic databases (PsycINFO, Medline, and Cochrane Library) for studies published between 2000 and 2022. Studies meeting the following criteria were included: (a) the intervention was described by authors as a PS intervention or including PS; (b) the intervention was used to treat or prevent depression; (c) mean or median age between 13-25 years; (d) at least one depression outcome was reported. Risk of bias of included studies was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias 2.0 tool. A narrative synthesis was undertaken given the high level of heterogeneity in study variables. Twenty-five out of 874 studies met inclusion criteria. The interventions studied were heterogeneous in population, intervention, modality, comparison condition, study design, and outcome. Twelve studies focused purely on PS; 13 used PS as part of a more comprehensive intervention. Eleven studies found positive effects in reducing depressive symptoms and two in reducing suicidality. There was little evidence that the intervention impacted PS skills or that PS skills acted as a mediator or moderator of effects on depression. There is mixed evidence about the effectiveness of PS as a prevention and treatment of depression among AYA. Our findings indicate that pure PS interventions to treat clinical depression have the strongest evidence, while pure PS interventions used to prevent or treat sub-clinical depression and PS as part of a more comprehensive intervention show mixed results. Possible explanations for limited effectiveness are discussed, including missing outcome bias, variability in quality, dosage, and fidelity monitoring; small sample sizes and short follow-up periods.
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