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Just 3 Hours Of Therapy Can Prevent Mental Illness in Teens, Study

Update Date: Oct 03, 2013 01:10 PM EDT

Just three hours of group therapy sessions is enough to prevent mental health issues in teens, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that the rate of mental health issues among 509 British teens was reduced by 25 percent to 33 percent over the two years following two 90-minute group therapy sessions.

The study involved students from 19 schools in London. The students were evaluated for their risk of developing metal health of substance abuse problems using an establish personality scale, which measures different personality factors that are know to be correlated strongly with behavioral issues. Researchers looked for impulsivity, hopelessness, anxiety sensitivity and sensation seeking.

Some schools were trained to deliver interventions to their high-risk students, while the schools in the control condition were not. The two-session interventions included cognitive-behavioral strategies for managing one's personality profile. The students were encouraged to share real life "scenarios" within their focus group and discuss thought, emotions and behaviors within the context of their personality type.  For instance, they were asked to identify situational triggers and, with the guidance of their teacher, explored ways to manage their issues.

In the 24 months following the interventions, students were asked to complete questionnaires every six months that enabled the researchers to establish the development of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, conduct problems and suicidal thoughts.

The findings revealed that the effects were clinically significant, with a 21 percent to 26 percent reduction in severe depression, anxiety and conduct problem symptoms over the course of the trial. Students with high impulsivity had 36 percent reduced odds of reporting severe conduct problems and those high in anxiety sensitivity reported 33 percent reduced odds of severe anxiety problems. Students high in hopelessness exhibited a 23 percent decrease in depressive symptoms compared to students with similar personality profiles who did not receive interventions.

"The interventions were run by trained educational professionals, suggesting that this brief intervention can be both effective and sustainable when run within the school system," lead researcher Dr. Patricia Conrod of the University of Montreal said in a news release. "We are now leading similar study is 32 high schools in Montreal to further test the efficacy of this kind of program."

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