Teachers can help reduce mental health problems in children, study finds

April 12, 2018 by Rosanna M. Castro, Florida International University
Credit: Florida International University

School-based mental health services delivered by teachers and staff can significantly reduce mental health problems in elementary-aged children, according to a new study by researchers at the Florida International University Center for Children and Families.

The implications are significant considering approximately 30 to 40 percent of youth in the U.S. will be diagnosed with at least one disorder by adolescence.

"More than half of children in the U.S. who receive receive those mental services in a school setting, which makes educators frontline for affected children," added the study's senior author, Jonathan Comer, professor and director of the Mental Health Interventions and Technology (MINT) Program at FIU's Center for Children and Families. "Our findings are encouraging in showing how—with sufficient training and support—mental health services can be quite effective when delivered by school-based professionals who are naturally in children's lives."

The researchers examined 43 studies that evaluated nearly 50,000 children who had received school-based mental health services. They looked at the effectiveness of those services targeting various conditions including anxiety, depression, and attention and substance use problems.

A small number of services evaluated in this study pull children out of classrooms to receive individualized treatment. Many school-based treatment models require that teachers learn and deliver a social emotional mental health curriculum separate from their academic instruction. Other school-based treatment models blend behavioral and mental health services into classroom instruction. For example, a teacher might divide their classroom students into competing teams that get points for appropriate behavior and good listening during instructional times.

The authors found that mental health services blended into routine academic instruction in the classroom are particularly effective, compared to pull-out services or implemention of a separate mental health curriculum altogether.

If left untreated, mental disorders first appearing during the elementary school years tend to persist into adulthood and are associated with impaired social functioning, suicidality, substance misuse, criminality, lower education and occupational attainment, and lower quality of life.

"Treating children in schools can powerfully overcome issues of cost, transportation, and stigma that typically restrict from receiving mental health services," said lead author Amanda Sanchez, M.S., at FIU's Center for Children and Families.

Other study findings show school-based services targeting child behavior problems have been more effective than other services targeting child attention problems, mood and anxiety problems or substance use. Moreover, treatments that are implemented multiple times per week are more than twice as effective as treatments that are only implemented on a weekly (or less) basis.

Further research is needed to understand how to best apply the findings from this study to optimize school-based mental health services for the very large number of students in need.

The authors caution that many schools—particularly those in low-resourced communities—do not have the personnel or expertise to implement quality mental health services without additional support and partnerships with mental health professionals. In order to optimize the success and sustainability of school-based , the authors call for increased support, training and resources for school-based staff.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).

Explore further: Teachers and other school-based professionals can effectively treat children's mental health problems

More information: Amanda L. Sanchez et al. The Effectiveness of School-Based Mental Health Services for Elementary-Aged Children: A Meta-Analysis, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2017.11.022

Related Stories

Teachers and other school-based professionals can effectively treat children's mental health problems

March 1, 2018
School-based services delivered by teachers and other school-based professionals can help reduce mental health problems in elementary-aged children, reports a study published in the March 2018 issue of the Journal of the ...

Pre-existing mental health conditions in men linked to problems during transition to parenthood

March 6, 2018
New research by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) has shown that men with a history of common mental health problems are four times more likely to experience mental health problems during their partner's pregnancy.

Children with chronic illness often show signs of mental health problems

January 4, 2018
Children commonly show signs of a mental disorder soon after receiving a diagnosis involving a of a chronic physical condition, according to a recent study in BMJ Open.

Self-esteem key to treating mental health

February 20, 2018
Improving how mental health patients perceive themselves could be critical in treating them, according to a study from the University of Waterloo.

Schools shouldn't wait for red flags to address student mental health needs

March 1, 2018
One out of every four or five. That's how many students will display a significant mental health problem over the course of their lifetime.

Study links mental health to poor school results

December 18, 2017
A national survey led by The University of Western Australia has painted a bleak picture of the effect of mental disorders on Australia's school students with the results revealing poorer academic outcomes, more absences ...

Recommended for you

The connection between alcoholism and depression

September 21, 2018
Alcoholism and depression often go hand-in-hand.

Even toddlers weigh risks, rewards when making choices

September 21, 2018
Every day, adults conduct cost-benefit analyses in some form for decisions large and small, economic and personal: Bring a lunch or go out? Buy or rent? Remain single or start a family? All are balances of risk and reward.

Early warning sign of psychosis detected

September 21, 2018
Brains of people at risk of psychosis exhibit a pattern that can help predict whether they will go on to develop full-fledged schizophrenia, a new Yale-led study shows. The findings could help doctors begin early intervention ...

In depression the brain region for stress control is larger

September 20, 2018
Although depression is one of the leading psychiatric disorders in Germany, its cause remains unclear. A recent study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig, Germany, found ...

Quitting junk food produces similar withdrawal-type symptoms as drug addiction

September 20, 2018
If you plan to try and quit junk food, expect to suffer similar withdrawal-type symptoms—at least during the initial week—like addicts experience when they attempt to quit using drugs.

American girls read and write better than boys

September 20, 2018
As early as the fourth grade, girls perform better than boys on standardized tests in reading and writing, and as they get older that achievement gap widens even more, according to research published by the American Psychological ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.