When prevention is the only way — as well as the best

When prevention is the only way — as well as the best
14 August 2007

The universal benefit of prevention strategies designed to deal with quite specific problems has been demonstrated by a new study of childhood emotional disorders by researchers at the University of Queensland.

When it comes to combating anxiety and depression among young people, prevention might not only be the best way, but also the only way according to Lara J. Farrell and Paula M. Barrett’s report in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Common as anxiety and depression are, affecting one in four children according to some studies, research suggests that most who suffer will go without help. Moreover, of the minority who do get help, many will quit treatment early or continue to suffer despite it.

Preventative approaches, on the other hand, reach children before problems become difficult and costly to solve, and they also reach many who might never get help any other way. When they are conducted at schools, they are likely reach potential sufferers and to stop incipient problems escalating.

Farrell and Barrett review a number of evaluations of one prevention program called FRIENDS. Ten weekly sessions focus on managing stress, anxiety, depression and fostering problem solving, self-esteem, support networks and positive role models. Parents also attend some of the sessions to learn how to help their children.

A number of studies have compared children randomly chosen to participate in FRIENDS with similar children randomly chosen to not participate. Interestingly, across studies, children in both groups tend to see reductions in depression and anxiety over time – suggesting the often transitory nature of such conditions.

However, children in the FRIENDS groups tend to experience significantly greater reductions in anxiety and depression and the effects last up to three years. The program seems to work best when begun early (around sixth grade) and its benefits are greater among girls, who tend to have higher incidence of anxiety than boys.

The FRIENDS program is supported by the World Health Organization in recent WHO policy documents on prevention of mental health disorders. Researchers are testing the efficacy of the program in Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Norway.

  • The word FRIENDS is an acronym for the FRIENDS for Life! program. F = Feelings; R = Relax and feel good; I = I can do it! I can try my best! E = Explore solutions and coping step plans; N = Now reward yourself! You've done your best! D = Don't forget to practice; S = Smile! Stay calm for life!

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