Evaluating population-level interventions for young people's mental health: challenges and opportunities

Authors

  • Michael Gifford Sawyer,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia, Research and Evaluation Unit, Children, Youth and Women's Health Service, Adelaide, Australia, and
      Professor Michael Gifford Sawyer, Research and Evaluation Unit, Women's and Children's Hospital, North Adelaide, SA 5006, Australia. Email: michael.sawyer@adelaide.edu.au
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  • Nina Borojevic,

    1. Research and Evaluation Unit, Children, Youth and Women's Health Service, Adelaide, Australia, and
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  • John Lynch

    1. Sansom Institute, Division of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia, School of Community and Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
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  • Declaration of conflict of interest: The authors have no conflicts of interest.

Professor Michael Gifford Sawyer, Research and Evaluation Unit, Women's and Children's Hospital, North Adelaide, SA 5006, Australia. Email: michael.sawyer@adelaide.edu.au

Abstract

Aim: To identify key issues relevant to the delivery and evaluation of population-level mental health interventions for children and adolescents.

Methods: The benefits and limitations of clinical, targeted and universal interventions were initially reviewed. Subsequently, experience gained in evaluations of targeted and universal interventions was utilized to identify key challenges that must be addressed by researchers responsible for evaluating population-level interventions and potential solutions to these challenges.

Results: To be effective, population-level interventions must engage large numbers of individuals in community or regional areas. Successfully evaluating population-level interventions delivered in routine services requires a clear agreement about outcomes, use of strong research methodologies, and the availability of adequate research funding. Sustaining service-research partnerships over the several-year life of typical population interventions requires careful attention to these issues. Electronic databases with the capacity to efficiently collect, store and allow retrieval of large amounts of data in electronic format are also an essential component of population-level interventions. Finally, research leaders need high-quality administrative skills to manage research teams responsible for evaluating large-scale population-level interventions delivered at a regional or national level.

Conclusion: Population-level interventions have the potential to play an important role in reducing the incidence and prevalence of mental health problems experienced by young people in the community. However, if they are to achieve their full effectiveness, ongoing evaluations are needed.

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