SSW Research Brief: Combating Student Anxiety in Schools
Neil, A.L. & Christensen, H. (2009). Efficacy and effectiveness of school-based prevention and early intervention programs for anxiety. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(3), 208-215.
Article summarized by Rebecca Nelson, MSW Student studying School Social Work at Loyola Chicago
What is the study about?
Researchers conducted a systematic review of 20 various school-based programs – both prevention and early intervention – designed to target symptoms of anxiety. The authors reviewed the programs’ effectiveness in symptom reduction.
Approximately 8% of school-aged children suffer from anxiety, although actual prevalence rates may be higher due to many children not being identified nor receiving treatment.Prevalence of anxiety in schools:
Approximately 8% of school-aged children suffer from anxiety, although actual prevalence rates may be higher due to many children not being identified nor receiving treatment.
What did they find?
- More than 3/4 of the prevention interventions led to a reduction in anxiety symptoms.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) programs made up the majority of the programs.
- CBT programs did not have better results than other models.
- Type of leader (teacher vs. mental health professional) did not affect results.
- Reductions in anxiety symptoms were present for both indicated (tiers 2 and 3) and universal (tier 1) levels.
Why is it important?
- It is important to combat the symptoms of anxiety early to lead to better outcomes.
- Anxiety can impede social, academic, and emotional functioning.
- If anxiety is left untreated, it can lead to depression, substance use and abuse, reduced career options, and increased medical service use at high financial costs.
What can School Social Workers do?
The authors suggest implementing early intervention and prevention programs in the school setting to target symptoms of anxiety. They also suggest adding parent components and booster sessions to enhance effects. Since these programs were shown to be effective regardless of the leader, it is suggested that teachers be adequately trained to implement anxiety prevention strategies in the classroom. Doing so would be a cost-efficient and sustainable way of ensuring that more children receive mental health treatment. The authors note that regardless of who implements such programs, measures should be taken to ensure that implementation is done with fidelity in order to be effective.
How was the study done?
A systematic review of the research literature from 1987 through February 2008 was conducted by searching research databases (Cochrane Library, PsychInfo and PubMed) with the following search terms: “school* OR school-based OR adolescen* OR child* OR youth”, “prevent* OR early intervent*”, and “anxiety OR anxious”. Articles that conducted studies with children or adolescents (5-19 years), included a formal school-based intervention aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety, and were randomized controlled trials were included in the review. Two researchers independently reviewed and coded each article, calculated effect sizes from the studies, and summarized findings across the studies.