Mental Disorders in School-Age Children

Researchers conducted a review for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Mental Health Services on the effectiveness of prevention programs for reducing mental health problems in school-age children. The review was co-authored by Mark Greenberg, Celene Domitrovich, and Brian Bumbarger.

Thirty-four different programs were identified and found to significantly reduce aggression, depression and anxiety and improve behavior and problem-solving skills. This good news shows the potential promise of widespread prevention programs to reduce mental disorders and behavior problems in childhood in a manner similar to what our nation has done to reduce heart disease and cancer.

The researchers also identified several characteristics shared by effective programs. Effective universal prevention programs (programs that were addressed to broad populations of children, families and schools) focused on teaching emotional self-regulation as well as thinking and decision-making skills that improve social and emotional competence. Effective programs also created changes in the school and family ecology that supported the use and reinforcement of these new skills. Finally, they lasted one or more school years and were used regularly. The review also found ten programs that have successfully reduced the risk for conduct problems. Disorders of conduct are one of the most prevalent and stable child psychiatric disorders.

In addition, the review found several programs that have successfully reduced depressive symptoms, including programs that have reduced symptoms of anxiety and risk for suicide. These effective programs focus on teaching children and youth how to alter and utilize more effective thinking and behavioral coping strategies. The programs also showed children and adolescents how to more effectively use the support of others in times of stress. In addition, other programs were identified that successfully impact children experiencing the stress-related effects of divorce or childhood bereavement that often manifest themselves in mental or behavioral problems.

The report, Preventing Mental Disorders in School-Age Children , is available under the publications' link on the Center's website at www.prevention.psu.edu/publications.