Group Intervention for Adolescent Anxiety and Depression: Outcomes of a Randomized Trial with Adolescents in Kenya

Transforming mental health for all

Youth mental health interventions in low-resource communities may benefit from including empirically supported elements, using stigma-free content, and using trained lay providers. We developed and evaluated such an intervention, targeting adolescent depression and anxiety in Kenya, where mental health care is limited by social stigma and a paucity of providers. Kenyan adolescents (N=51, ages 14– 17, 60.78% female) from a school in an urban slum in Nairobi with self-reported moderate-to-severe symptoms of depression or anxiety were randomized to the 4-week “Shamiri” (“thrive”) group intervention or a study skills control intervention of equal duration.

The Shamiri intervention included growth mindset, gratitude, and value affirmation exercises. The content was delivered by recent high school graduates (ages 17–21, 60% male) trained as lay providers. Participants met in school once a week in groups of 9–12 youths (average group size 10). Compared to the study-skills control, Shamiri produced greater reductions in adolescent depression symptoms (p=.038; d=.32) and anxiety symptoms (p=.039; d=.54) from baseline to 4-week follow-up, and greater improvements in academic performance (p=.034; d=.32) from the school- term before versus after the intervention. There were no effects on overall social support or perceived control, but the Shamiri group showed larger increases in perceived social support from friends (p=.028, d=.71). This appears to be the first report that a brief, lay-provider delivered, community-based intervention may reduce internalizing symptoms and improve academic outcomes in high- symptom adolescents in Sub-Saharan Africa. Larger replications with extended follow-ups will help gauge the strength and durability of these effects.

Keywords: adolescents; Sub-Saharan Africa; depression; anxiety; global mental health

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