Adolescent Health announcement
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Trial Finds Positive Action Benefits Emotional Health of Low-Income, Urban Youth

Soon to be reported in the "Journal of Adolescent Health" is data examining the effects of Positive Action on the mental health of youth followed from grades 3 to 8 in a low-income area of Chicago. The six-year matched-pair, cluster-randomized controlled trial of Positive Action involved 1,170 students in 14 public schools (53% female; 48% African-American, 27% Hispanic, and 19% other: i.e., white, Asian, Native American, and “Other”).

Findings indicated that Positive Action students, compared with those in control schools, had more favorable change in positive affect and life satisfaction, as well as significantly lower depression and anxiety. However, the modest magnitude of these effects over the period of program implementation (2005-2010) reflected the challenges both of mounting interventions and of offsetting formidable risks for mental health problems in such environments.

Research suggests that a reciprocal relationship exists between academics (the schooling environment) and emotional health, such that academic challenges (e.g., poor performance) can lead to emotional and behavioral problems. Similarly, emotional difficulties can impede the ability to learn. Also, although youth in these environments are most in need of mental health services, they are least likely to receive them. This makes schools the ideal setting for programming that can address emotional health.

Researchers hypothesized that, as compared with students in non-Positive Action implementing schools:

  • Students attending schools implementing Positive Action would report more favorable emotional health in the areas of positive affect, life satisfaction, depression, and anxiety.
  • The effects of Positive Action on these outcomes would be mediated by relative improvements in skills and behaviors supportive of social-emotional and character development (SECD).

To test these hypotheses, they used data from the Chicago trial of Positive Action, which included eight waves of data over six academic years, allowing them to test program effects longitudinally.

Results are consistent with and also extend those of previous investigations, most notably providing one of the first demonstrations of the capacity for school-based programs to be of benefit to the emotional health of youth living in urban, low-income communities. Future research should examine whether the effectiveness of Positive Action and related interventions for this purpose can be enhanced through refinements such as more focused attention to social-emotional skill development.

These results have been included in the outcomes matrix.

Click here to review the reported outcomes.