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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Effects of school-based interventions on mental health stigmatization: a systematic review

Howard M Schachter123*, Alberta Girardi1, Mylan Ly1, Denise Lacroix1, Andrew B Lumb1, Judith van Berkom1 and Ritu Gill1

Author Affiliations

1 Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health at CHEO, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

2 Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

3 Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 2008, 2:18  doi:10.1186/1753-2000-2-18

Published: 21 July 2008

Abstract

Stigmatizing, or discriminatory, perspectives and behaviour, which target individuals on the basis of their mental health, are observed in even the youngest school children. We conducted a systematic review of the published and unpublished, scientific literature concerning the benefits and harms of school-based interventions, which were directed at students 18 years of age or younger to prevent or eliminate such stigmatization. Forty relevant studies were identified, yet only a qualitative synthesis was deemed appropriate. Five limitations within the evidence base constituted barriers to drawing conclusive inferences about the effectiveness and harms of school-based interventions: poor reporting quality, a dearth of randomized controlled trial evidence, poor methods quality for all research designs, considerable clinical heterogeneity, and inconsistent or null results. Nevertheless, certain suggestive evidence derived both from within and beyond our evidence base has allowed us to recommend the development, implementation and evaluation of a curriculum, which fosters the development of empathy and, in turn, an orientation toward social inclusion and inclusiveness. These effects may be achieved largely by bringing especially but not exclusively the youngest children into direct, structured contact with an infant, and likely only the oldest children and youth into direct contact with individuals experiencing mental health difficulties. The possible value of using educational activities, materials and contents to enhance hypothesized benefits accruing to direct contact also requires investigation. Overall, the curriculum might serve as primary prevention for some students and as secondary prevention for others.