Prevention Science

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 487–507 | Cite as

A Meta-analysis of Universal Mental Health Prevention Programs for Higher Education Students

  • Colleen S. ConleyEmail author
  • Joseph A. Durlak
  • Alexandra C. Kirsch


This meta-analysis investigated the effectiveness of universal mental health prevention programs for higher education students on a range of adjustment outcomes. A systematic literature search identified 103 controlled published and unpublished interventions involving college, graduate, or professional students. As hypothesized, skill-training programs that included a supervised practice component were significantly more effective overall (mean effect size = 0.45, confidence interval (CI) = 0.39 to 0.52) compared to skill-training programs without supervised practice (0.11, CI = −0.01 to 0.22) and psychoeducational (information-only) programs (0.13, CI = 0.06 to 0.21). When comparisons on specific outcomes were possible, skill-training programs including supervised practice were significantly more effective than the other two groups of programs in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and general psychological distress, and in improving social-emotional skills, self-perceptions, and academic behaviors and performance. The magnitude of effects achieved in several outcome areas is comparable to or higher than that reported in other reviews of universal programs, suggesting that skill-training programs for higher education students that incorporate supervised practice now join the ranks of other effective preventive mental health interventions. This review offers several recommendations to improve the experimental rigor of future research.


Mental health Meta-analysis Promotion Prevention Higher education 



Special thanks to Daniel Dickson, Ashley Rolnik, Alison Stoner, and the many research assistants who provided valuable assistance with this project. This research was supported, in part, by an internal research grant from Loyola University Chicago.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


References marked with an asterisk indicate studies included in the meta-analysis

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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colleen S. Conley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joseph A. Durlak
    • 1
  • Alexandra C. Kirsch
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLoyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA

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