Depression and anxiety often emerge for the first time during youth. The school environment provides an ideal context to deliver prevention programs, with potential to offset the trajectory towards disorder.
The aim of this review was to provide a comprehensive evaluation of randomised-controlled trials of psychological programs, designed to prevent depression and/or anxiety in children and adolescents delivered in school settings. Medline, PsycINFO and the Cochrane Library were systematically searched for articles published until February 2015. Eighty-one unique studies comprising 31,794 school students met inclusion criteria. Small effect sizes for both depression (g=0.23) and anxiety (g=0.20) prevention programs immediately post-intervention were detected. Small effects were evident after 12-month follow-up for both depression (g=0.11) and anxiety (g=0.13).
Overall, the quality of the included studies was poor, and heterogeneity was moderate. Subgroup analyses suggested that universal depression prevention programs had smaller effect sizes at post-test relative to targeted programs. For anxiety, effect sizes were comparable for universal and targeted programs. There was some evidence that externally-delivered interventions were superior to those delivered by school staff for depression, but not anxiety.
Meta-regression confirmed that targeted programs predicted larger effect sizes for the prevention of depression. These results suggest that the refinement of school-based prevention programs have the potential to reduce mental health burden and advance public health outcomes.
Copyright © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.
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