• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Thursday 22nd November, 2007

Benefit of school mental health programs too much in the mind

It stands to reason that improving the school learning environment could have a number of benefits for students. Clear rules, efficient use of learning time, and a seamless flow between activities can prevent behavior problems and boost students’ motivation. Kimberly E. Hoagwood and her Columbia University colleagues note that many programs designed to improve children’s behavior and overall mental health rely for their focus on US schools. Similarly in the UK there is growing confidence among prevention strategists that efforts to improve students’ psychological functioning by paying greater attention to the school climate will have the further advantage of promoting academic achievement. But it turns out that few studies have examined whether this is actually the case. The New York researchers combed through 2,000 articles on studies relating to mental health programs for children published between 1990 and 2006 and found that only 64 had used sufficiently sound research methods.Among those 64 articles, only 24 examined both mental health and educational outcomes: the majority of interventions they studied involved elementary students, aimed to prevent antisocial behaviors – and lacked even rudimentary measures of academic performance. Only 15 of the most satisfactory 24 studies demonstrated a positive, and then only modest impact on both educational and mental health outcomes, and 11 of those included intensive interventions targeting children's parents as well as their teachers. Given the modest impact of even the most effective strategies, Hoagwood and her colleagues question whether the amount of resources needed to run intensive mental health programs is justified. Their systematic review recommends more research on what they call 'dosage' and 'timing' – in other words, on the extent to which various types of students need to participate in a program to benefit from it. They argue that this knowledge could help schools spend their mental health dollars more wisely and, by doing so, end up with not only happier, better behaved students, but also ones ready, willing, and able to learn.• Summary of “Empirically Based School Interventions Targeted at Academic and Mental Health Functioning.” by: Kimberly E. Hoagwood, Serene S. Olin, Bonnie D. Kerker, Thomas R. Kratochwill, Maura Crowe, and Noa Saka in Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, Summer 2007, Vol. 15 Issue 2, pp66-92.

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