Background: This systematic review provides a narrative synthesis of the evidence on the effectiveness of mental health promotion interventions for young people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Commissioned by the WHO, a review of the evidence for mental health promotion interventions across the lifespan from early years to adulthood was conducted. This paper reports on the findings for interventions promoting the positive mental health of young people (aged 6-18 years) in school and community-based settings.
Methods: Searching a range of electronic databases, 22 studies employing RCTs (N = 11) and quasi-experimental designs conducted in LMICs since 2000 were identified. Fourteen studies of school-based interventions implemented in eight LMICs were reviewed; seven of which included interventions for children living in areas of armed conflict and six interventions of multicomponent lifeskills and resilience training. Eight studies evaluating out-of-school community interventions for adolescents were identified in five countries. Using the Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP) criteria, two reviewers independently assessed the quality of the evidence.
Results: The findings from the majority of the school-based interventions are strong. Structured universal interventions for children living in conflict areas indicate generally significant positive effects on students' emotional and behavioural wellbeing, including improved self-esteem and coping skills. However, mixed results were also reported, including differential effects for gender and age groups, and two studies reported nonsignficant findings. The majority of the school-based lifeskills and resilience programmes received a moderate quality rating, with findings indicating positive effects on students' self-esteem, motivation and self-efficacy. The quality of evidence from the community-based interventions for adolescents was moderate to strong with promising findings concerning the potential of multicomponent interventions to impact on youth mental health and social wellbeing.
Conclusions: The review findings indicate that interventions promoting the mental health of young people can be implemented effectively in LMIC school and community settings with moderate to strong evidence of their impact on both positive and negative mental health outcomes. There is a paucity of evidence relating to interventions for younger children in LMIC primary schools. Evidence for the scaling up and sustainability of mental health promotion interventions in LMICs needs to be strengthened.