Addressing Depression in Schools

Statement of Problem

Numerous studies have shown that teen rates of depression, anxiety and other behavioral health conditions have been on the rise in recent decades. Despite their increasing prevalence, between 60 to 90 percent of teens don’t receive treatment for their conditions. In our team’s prior school-based work for which we screened middle and high school students for depression, 20-40 percent of students reported elevated symptoms of depression, which can have a tremendous impact on their physical health and academic success. For example, other researchers have found that students who report having some type of emotional difficulty are three times as likely to be tardy or absent from school compared to those without these issues, and another showed that 83 percent of students with emotional and behavioral disorders scored below the average student in reading, writing and math.

Though mental health conditions arise from numerous complicated genetic and environmental factors, research has shown that we can prevent some cases or at least reduce the severity of the condition. Preventive interventions provide a critical opportunity to set students on a path to improved overall health and well-being, and schools offer an opportune and underused setting to deliver these services.


Prior to coming to PolicyLab, our research team has spent the past 15 years implementing depression prevention interventions in schools in New York and New Jersey. The focus of our work has been developing and evaluating Interpersonal Psychotherapy-Adolescent Skills Training (IPT-AST), a group prevention program for adolescent depression. IPT-AST is an adaptation of interpersonal psychotherapy, an evidence-based treatment for depression, and is built on the idea that things that happen in our relationships affect how we feel, which in turn impacts how we act in our relationships. The program teaches students skills to promote positive relationships and address problematic relationships with friends and family to prevent these youth from developing more significant depression. Past research has demonstrated that this program positively impacts depression and anxiety symptoms, decreases the number of depression diagnoses, and has a positive impact on students’ academic functioning and social relationships. Based on this research, IPT-AST has been classified as a promising Blueprints program.

Currently, we are analyzing data from the Depression Prevention Initiative, our recently completed study which compared IPT-AST delivered by research clinicians to group counseling delivered by school counselors. 

Next Steps

Our ultimate goal is to take our findings and develop and refine interventions that can be disseminated to other school districts and communities so that every adolescent can receive the behavioral health care they need and ultimately transition into healthy, productive adults.

This project page was last updated in January 2020.

Suggested Citation

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Addressing Mental Health Conditions in Schools [Online].  [Accessed: plug in date accessed here]. 

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