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Helping young people to manage their emotions and improve their mental health

ILCHR’s realist review on preventative psychosocial interventions for adolescents

There is a growing body of evidence that points to a strong relationship between emotional regulation and mental health. For adolescents, emotional regulation is an important life skill to learn, as regulating emotions is linked to successful management of external stressors. These stressors can influence mental health and may shape how adolescents are able to transition into adulthood. This is of particular relevance in in low-resource settings, including many communities in South Africa, where adolescents have limited access to mental health care but are also exposed to a number of risk factors that can jeopardise their mental health. There is also a lack of knowledge about the best interventions in assisting adolescents to learn about managing their emotions.

Our realist review on preventative psychosocial interventions for adolescents

With funding from the Wellcome Trust, we conducted a realist review to investigate psychosocial interventions that included a focus on improving adolescents’ emotional regulation skills as a means to prevent depression and/or anxiety. In addition, we conducted focus groups with young people in South Africa and Nepal to better understand how these interventions have relevance for low resource settings.

Our findings derived from a realist review of 57 studies of programmes that teach emotional regulation skills as a means to prevent symptoms and diagnoses of depression and/or anxiety in young people.

We found that interventions that focus on improving emotional regulation work best to prevent depression and/or anxiety work best if they:

  • Actively teach adolescents skills to help them to manage their emotions

  • Engage the adolescents’ parents/caregivers to ensure that the skills learned are carried out and practiced in the home setting

  • Adapt intervention to adolescents particular setting, development age, culture and gender

  • Consider the broader context and specific stressors that adolescents are experiencing

  • Those delivering the intervention need to

    • be fully invested and have the necessary skills and support to implement the intervention

    • develop supportive relationships and act as role models to the adolescents

By incorporating these factors, interventions can support young people to regulate their emotions, which in turn can prevent or attenuate the risk of depression and anxiety.

Below infographic summarises our findings:


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