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Free Articles of the Week: School Mental Health and Educational Outcomes

Free Articles of the Week:  School Mental Health and Educational Outcomes

For this week, we offer 2 articles from our Featured Journal, Advances in School Mental Health Promotion that tackle the all-important question:  do mental health interventions improve the outcomes that schools focus on the most i.e. grades, attendance, and behavior?  These 3 studies offer a heavily qualified “yes” to this question.

In the first study, “A review of educational outcomes in the children’s mental health treatment literature,” Becker and colleagues (2014) analyze 602 childrens’ mental health intervention studies and found only 14.5% of them evaluated the study’s effectiveness using a measure related to educational outcomes; 20% of the study groups took place within a school setting.  Despite the concern that relatively few child mental health intervention studies are focusing on educational outcomes, the authors note a few key findings:

  1. “There was a significant association between improvement on educational and mental health outcomes (p.5).”  Mental health interventions can target both academic and mental health outcomes, and they can also be delivered in both school and out-of-school settings and impact these outcomes.
  2. Interventions targeted a wide range of presenting issues that school social workers deal with every day, with the top 3 areas in these studies being ones we all recognize:  disruptive behavior, anxiety, and inattention/hyperactivity.  Mental health interventions “work” with these problems, and can also make a difference on student educational outcomes for these students, too.
  3. Finally, the trend in intervention research is a promising one in this area, with over 33% of the total studies the authors found having been conducted in the past 15 years, indicating that while more study is always needed, there appears to be some momentum towards studying the link between school mental health interventions and educational outcomes.

While the first study is encouraging, a lot of the studies focused on elementary-age children.  The momentum of school mental health research needs to step up big-time for adolescents who are on the edge academically.  In the second study, “School mental health early interventions and academic outcomes for at-risk high school students: a meta-analysis,” Iachini and colleagues (2015) conducted a meta-analysis of published studies of school mental health interventions targeting high school students who were at-risk for school failure.  Their findings are concerning:  only 7 studies (!) met the criteria for review, and as the authors state in their abstract:  “A meta-analysis found no statistically significant effect on the academic outcomes most commonly assessed in the studies (i.e., GPA, attendance, and discipline). Findings suggest the need for more rigorous research in this area (p. 156).”  We have a lot more work to do to establish the link between school mental health interventions and improved academic outcomes for all youth, particularly adolescents.

About The Author

Michael Kelly

Michael S. Kelly PhD, LCSW is Professor and Director of the School Mental Health Advanced Practice certificate and Family and School Partnerships Program at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Social Work. Prior to coming to Loyola in Fall 2006, he was a school social worker, family therapist, and youth minister in the Chicago area for 14 years. He has authored over 65 journal articles, books, and book chapters on school social work, evidence-based practice (EBP), and positive youth development. He is a fellow of the Oxford Symposium for School-Based Family Counseling, and the Associate Editor of the Advances in School Mental Health Promotion Journal. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of School Mental Health Journal, School Social Work Journal, and Children & Schools. He has recently brought his work on school mental health and EBP to researchers and practitioners in England, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Canada, Chile, and Japan.

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