Identifying effective school-based mental health and wellbeing programsResearch 28 Nov 2023 5 minute read
New study finds school-based mental health and wellbeing programs have the potential to improve student academic outcomes in low- and middle-income countries.
School closures and disruptions to mental health services linked to the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted the lives of children, young people and their families. There is an increasing expectation for schools to provide emotional and psychosocial support and stability to students, educators and staff. Education systems are now investing more resources into school-based mental health programs to ensure they can provide the required level of support, in addition to acknowledging the need for social-emotional skill development.
The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Centre – a partnership between the ACER and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and trade (DFAT) has conducted a rapid review to understand the effectiveness of school-based programs to support student mental health and wellbeing in low- and middle-income countries. The review aimed to understand how mental health and wellbeing programs in schools can influence academic readiness and student achievement.
Thirty-four school-based mental health programs were selected from low- and middle-income countries for the review. Another 56 interventions from high-income countries were assessed to compare the differences in program aims and characteristics between their contexts.
The review found that school-based mental health and wellbeing programs have high potential to improve the wellbeing of students. Importantly, such improvements are also relevant for attaining better academic outcomes when effectively implemented in low- and middle-income countries. Some of these mental health and wellbeing programs may also have greater impact in low-and middle-income countries than high-income countries.
Encouragingly, strong positive links between improvements in student mental health and wellbeing-related outcomes, and improvements in academic readiness and achievement were found. Students involved in mental health programs also had improved social-emotional skills, increased behavioural-cognitive skills, and greater levels of physical activity and relaxation.
Important gaps were revealed in current approaches to supporting student mental health and wellbeing in low- and middle-income countries. This included limited evidence of programs to improve mental health and wellbeing based on factors such as gender, socioeconomic status, disability, sexuality, migration, religious views, or cultural backgrounds.
Ultimately, this study demonstrates the need for mental health programs to be evidence-based and tailored to the needs of the different contexts. For example, in some contexts, where stigma still exist around mental health issues and help-seeking behaviours, it is important that programs build awareness in schools and educate students about mental health issues.
Accompanying the review is the release of a policy brief that includes recommendations on how to implement effective school-based mental health and wellbeing programs that also provide evidence on improvements related to learning outcomes.