Evidence shows efficacy of mental health programs in schools

A new study has found school-based mental health programs are effective at reaching a large number of children and adolescents and improve outcomes.


Roughly 13 percent of children and adolescents worldwide have significant mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, disruptive behavior disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The study, published in the September/October edition of the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, found that school-based mental health services can reach a large group of students and improve mental health outcomes in these students.
“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,” author J. Michael Murphy, of Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues wrote.

Researchers analyzed school-based mental health programs implemented on a large scale and estimated that the eight largest programs have reached 27 million children in the past decade.

The largest program, the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, targets positive social culture and behavioral support for students. The second-largest program, called FRIENDS, works to reduce anxiety and teach ways to manage emotions and coping with stress.

“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,” researchers wrote.

Data collection and new evaluation frameworks show that school-based mental health programs have the potential to “improve population-wide health outcomes of the next generation.”

By Amy Wallace