In Lebanon, approximately one in four adolescents suffers from a psychiatric disorder. Alarmingly, 94% of adolescents with a mental disorder have not sought any treatment. This study assessed the effectiveness of an evidence-based school-based universal mental health intervention (the FRIENDS program) in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms in middle school students in Lebanon. A total of 280 6th graders aged 11-13 years were recruited from 10 schools in Beirut. Schools were matched on size and tuition and randomly assigned to intervention or control groups. The FRIENDS program was translated into Arabic, adapted, and then implemented by trained mental health professionals during 10 classroom sessions over 3 months. We assessed sociodemographic and relevant psychological symptoms by self-report, using the Scale for Childhood Anxiety and Related Disorders (SCARED), Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ), and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), at baseline. We re-administered these scales at 3 months post-intervention. There was a significant time × group interaction for the SDQ emotional score (p = 0.011) and total MFQ score (p = 0.039) indicating significant improvement in depressive and emotional symptoms in the intervention group. Subgroup analysis by gender showed a significant time × group interaction for the total SCARED score (p = 0.025) in females but not in males (p = 0.137), consistent with a reduction of anxiety symptoms in this stratum of the intervention group as compared with the control group. The FRIENDS program was effective in reducing general emotional and depressive symptoms among middle school students in this Lebanese study population. This intervention provides an opportunity for promoting mental health in Lebanese schools and reducing the treatment gap in mental health care.
Keywords: Adolescents; Children; FRIENDS; Intervention; Lebanon; Mental health; School.