An Arts-Literacy Intervention for Adolescent Depression and Anxiety Symptoms: RCT

A brief arts-literacy after-school intervention, called Pretexts, effectively reduces depression and anxiety in adolescents, promising for Sub-Saharan youth mental health.
Intervention effect size
Students aged 13-19 from Kenyan high schools
(d = 0.52) (d = 0.51)
Pre-Texts led to a significant reduction in depression (d = 0.52) and anxiety (d = 0.51) symptoms from baseline to 1-month follow-up
(d = 1.10) (d = 0.54)
In participants with elevated depression and anxiety symptoms, Pre-Texts led to an even greater reduction in depression (d = 1.10) and anxiety (d = 0.54) symptoms

The Challenge

Adolescence is a crucial period in life, and it comes with its unique set of mental health challenges. In low-resource countries like Kenya, these challenges are amplified by stigma and a lack of access to traditional treatments. The need for accessible, stigma-free, and scalable mental health interventions is more urgent than ever.

The Solution

Enter Pre-Texts, an innovative art-literacy intervention designed to tackle adolescent depression and anxiety. This unique approach uses text – an extract from a novel, a physics lesson, or a technical manual – as a source of inspiration for art-making. This is followed by group reflection on the process of interpretation through art-making.

The Study

The effectiveness of Pre-Texts was put to the test in a rigorous Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) involving students from Kenyan high schools.

The Procedure

Students from 13 to 19 were randomly assigned to either Pre-Texts or a study skills control intervention. They met in groups of 6-12 for hour-long sessions every day for a week. These sessions were facilitated by high school graduates trained as lay-providers. The trial ran from August 11th to December 18th, 2021.

The Results

The results were promising. Pre-Texts led to a significant reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms from baseline to 1-month follow-up compared to the control group. The effects were even more pronounced in a sub-sample of participants with elevated depression and anxiety symptoms.

In Conclusion

This study suggests that a brief arts-literacy intervention, implemented as an after-school program, can effectively reduce depression and anxiety symptoms in adolescents. It's a ray of hope for youth mental health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Future trials with larger sample sizes and extended follow-ups will help us better understand the strength and sustainability of these effects.

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