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School-based mental health programmes 'can deliver benefits'

10/05/2017 Joanna

A new psychological programme designed for schoolchildren has been shown to effectively deliver mental health benefits.

Conducted from 2010 to 2011 in a secondary girls-only state school in east London, the study - published in the medical journal PLOS One - aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of the SPARK Resilience Programme, an initiative designed to enhance pupils' resilience and ability to recover after setbacks, while also preventing depression.

It is based on established methods of cognitive behavioural therapy and concepts from the field of positive psychology, and offers students with tools to identify stressful situations, evaluate their automatic responses and learn to control negative behavioural reactions.

Specifically, participants are taught to recognise common negative thought patterns that can lead to misconceptions or selective interpretations of adverse situations, and how to consider alternative modes of thinking. The programme also introduces children to skills such as assertiveness and problem-solving, and helps them identify their strengths, social support networks and sources of positive emotions.

Almost 400 girls participated in the research, with the results showing that the programme helped to significantly increase their self-reported resilience, while depression symptoms also decreased.

Study leader Dr Michael Pluess at Queen Mary University of London's school of biological and chemical sciences, said: "This research shows that it is possible to promote psychological wellbeing in middle childhood through an integrated school-based intervention programme informed by concepts of positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy.

"Rather than focusing on preventing psychological problems in a few students, this programme aims at strengthening the psychological resilience of all children."

However, it was also noted that depression symptoms returned to their pre-intervention levels 12 months after the programme was concluded, suggesting that children may need refresher sessions after a certain amount of time.

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