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Psychological and/or educational interventions for the prevention of depression in children and adolescents


Merry, S. N., McDowell, H. H., Hetrick, S. E., Bir, J. and Muller, N.

Subject Keywords: Review of interventions of whether psychological depression prevention programs were effective in preventing depression
Topic: Burden
Chronic Conditions
Mental Health
Chronic Conditions
Type: Article
Region: International (other)

Depression is the fourth most important disease in the estimation of the burden of disease (Murray 1996) and is a common problem, with prevalence rates estimated to be as high as 8% in young people. Depression in young people is associated with poor academic performance, social dysfunction, substance abuse, suicide attempts, and completed suicide (NHMRC 1997). This has precipitated the development of programmes aimed at preventing the onset of depression. This review evaluates evidence for the effectiveness of these prevention programmes. Objectives To determine whether psychological and/or educational interventions (both universal and targeted) are effective in reducing risk of depressive disorder by reducing depressive symptoms immediately after intervention or by preventing the onset of depressive disorder in children and adolescents over the next one to three years. Studies were divided into those that compared intervention with an active comparison or placebo (i.e. a control condition that resembles the intervention being investigated but which lacks the elements thought to be active in preventing depression) and those that used a "wait-list" or no intervention comparison group. Only two studies fell into the former category and neither showed effectiveness although one study was inadequately powered to show a difference and in the other the "placebo" contained active therapeutic elements, reducing the ability to demonstrate a difference from intervention. Psychological interventions were effective compared with non-intervention immediately after the programmes were delivered with a significant reduction in scores on depression rating scales for targeted (standardised mean difference (SMD) of -0.26 and a 95% confidence interval (CI) of -0.40 to -0.13 ) but not universal interventions (SMD -0.21, 95% CI -0.48, 0.06), with a significant effect maintained on pooling data (SMD -0.26, 95% CI -0.36, -0.15). While small effect sizes were reported, these were associated with a significant reduction in depressive episodes. The overall risk difference after intervention translates to "numbers needed to treat" (NNT) of 10.The most effective study is the targeted programme by Clarke 2001, where the initial effect size of -0.46 is associated with an initial risk difference of -0.22 and NNT 5. There was no evidence of effectiveness for educational interventions. Reports of effectiveness for boys and girls were contradictory. The quality of many studies was poor, and only two studies made allocation concealment explicit. Sensitivity analysis of only high quality studies did not alter the results significantly. The only analysis in which there was significant statistical heterogeneity was the sub-group analysis by gender where there was variability in the response to different programmes for both girls and boys. For the most part funnel plots indicate findings are robust for short term effects with no publication bias evident. There are too few studies to comment on whether there is publication bias for studies reporting long-term (12-36 month) follow-up.



Rights: © The Cochrane Collaboration
Suggested citation:

Merry, S. N., McDowell, H. H., Hetrick, S. E., Bir, J. and Muller, N.. (2004) Psychological and/or educational interventions for the prevention of depression in children and adolescents [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 22nd July 2019].


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