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

Abstract

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 A systematic literature search identified 103 controlled published and unpublished interventions involving college, graduate, or professional students.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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Throughout this report, “higher education students” refers generally to students receiving post-secondary education in 2- or 4-year colleges and universities, trade and vocational schools, or various graduate and professional programs (e.g., medical or law school).

  2. 2.

    A copy of the search terms, journals searched, and coding manual used in this review is available from the first author on request.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Conley, C.S., Durlak, J.A. & Kirsch, A.C. A Meta-analysis of Universal Mental Health Prevention Programs for Higher Education Students. Prev Sci 16, 487–507 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-015-0543-1

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Keywords

  • Mental health
  • Meta-analysis
  • Promotion
  • Prevention
  • Higher education