Indicated prevention interventions for anxiety in children and adolescents: a review and meta-analysis of school-based programs

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Anxiety disorders are among the most common youth mental health disorders. Early intervention can reduce elevated anxiety symptoms. School-based interventions exist but it is unclear how effective targeted approaches are for reducing symptoms of anxiety. This review and meta-analysis aimed to determine the effectiveness of school-based indicated interventions for symptomatic children and adolescents. The study was registered with PROSPERO [CRD42018087628]. We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Library for randomised-controlled trials comparing indicated programs for child and adolescent (5–18 years) anxiety to active or inactive control groups. Data were extracted from papers up to December 2019. The primary outcome was efficacy (mean change in anxiety symptom scores). Sub-group and sensitivity analyses explored intervention intensity and control type. We identified 20 studies with 2076 participants. Eighteen studies were suitable for meta-analysis. A small positive effect was found for indicated programs compared to controls on self-reported anxiety symptoms at post-test (g = − 0.28, CI = − 0.50, − 0.05, k = 18). This benefit was maintained at 6 (g = − 0.35, CI = − 0.58, − 0.13, k = 9) and 12 months (g = − 0.24, CI = − 0.48, 0.00, k = 4). Based on two studies, > 12 month effects were very small (g = − 0.01, CI = − 0.38, 0.36). No differences were found based on intervention intensity or control type. Risk of bias and variability between studies was high (I2 = 78%). Findings show that school-based indicated programs for child and adolescent anxiety can produce small beneficial effects, enduring for up to 12 months. Future studies should include long-term diagnostic assessments.


Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Jun 2020