How effective are school-based mental health interventions for children in elementary school?

March 21, 2018

The Effectiveness of School-Based Mental Health Services for Elementary-Aged Children: A Meta-Analysis

News Summary: This meta-analysis examines the effects of school-based mental health services for elementary school-age children delivered by school personnel. Forty-three controlled trials evaluating 49,941 elementary school-age children met criteria for inclusion in this study. The study used a randomized, between-subjects, controlled comparison or quasi-experimental design using matched samples to minimize selection bias. The study finds school-based mental health services had a small to medium effect size (Hedges g = 0.39) in decreasing mental health problems. The largest effect size was for targeted intervention, (Hedges g = 0.76), followed by selective prevention (Hedges g = 0.67) compared with universal prevention (Hedges g = 0.29). Interventions integrated into student’s academic instruction using contingency management were found to have positive impacts (Hedges g = 0.57), and interventions implemented multiple times per week (Hedges g = 0.50) were also shown to have a notable impact for improving student’s lives. These results are promising considering the normal barriers that impede students from receiving mental health care outside of school and the fact 80% of mental health service are provided in schools by personnel who are readily available and are shown to be effective in addressing student’s mental health needs (Ringeisen, Henderson, and Hoagwood, 2003).


  • Targeted Intervention: interventions provided only to students identified as having mental health problems.
  • Universal prevention: interventions provided to all students in a classroom
  • Selective prevention: interventions provided only to students at risk for mental health problems according to a teacher referral or mental health screening

Citation: Sanchez, A. L., Cornacchio, D., Poznanski, B., Golik, A. M., Chou, T., & Comer, J. S. (2018). The effectiveness of school-based mental health services for elementary-aged children: a meta-analysis. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry57(3), 153-165.