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Non-digital interventions for adolescent mental health and psychosocial well-being: a review of the literature

Working paper

Written by Fiona Samuels, Rachel Marcus, Carmen Leon-Himmelstine

Hero image description: Morning exercises among upper secondary school students, Dien Bien, Viet Nam Image credit:Fiona Samuels

Adolescents and young people face an unequal risk of developing mental health complications but remain one of the least accessible subpopulations to reach for support interventions. In low- and middle-income countries, adolescents face a higher risk of mental ill-health due to adverse conditions while also grappling with a shortage of trained medical professionals to address their mental health needs, leading to wide treatment gaps.

This review provides an overview of non-digital interventions that are focused on preventing mental health challenges, promoting positive mental well-being and aiding prevention, treatment and coping mechanisms for youth with diverse mental health disorders. It is part of a two-and-a-half-year project, funded by Fondation Botnar, to address the mental health needs of adolescents in schools, the community and at institutional level in Tanzania and Viet Nam through the co-creation and application of digital and non-digital technologies.

Key messages

  • Non-digital interventions are important means of providing mental health services for young people, particularly in resource-constrained settings.
  • Non-digital interventions allow face-to-face interactions and relationship building, with trained specialist and non-specialist actors including families, caregivers, teachers and communities.
  • Using established platforms such as schools, primary healthcare systems and community institutions, these interventions are able to address the mental health needs of a wide range of young people and sometimes also include caregivers and families in programmes.
  • Combining a diversity of approaches, activities and interactions, these interventions can also address intersecting issues affecting adolescents, including reproductive health.
  • Effectiveness of interventions designed to promote good mental health and psychosocial well-being (or to protect from poor mental health and psychosocial ill-being) is specific to the individual’s gender, symptoms and context.
  • Youth voice is central to all efforts to improve mental health; designing interventions without young people’s input, or the input of their teachers or caregivers, will undermine impact, missing key elements that young people are looking for the service to deliver.
Morning exercises among upper secondary school students, Dien Bien, Viet Nam
Image credit:Fiona Samuels
Aparna Ananthakrishnan with Fiona Samuels, Rachel Marcus and Carmen Leon-Himmelstine