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A universal approach to preventing substance use and mental health problems among adolescents

Dr Cath Chapman
image - 1314679218 Catherine Chapman 05

More than 6000 students from 71 schools recruited in 2014 as 13 and 14 year olds are participating in a unique ongoing study investigating the effectiveness of Internet-Based Prevention for Anxiety, Depression and Substance Use in Young People. The Climate Schools Combined (CSC) Study represents the latest in a collaborative program of work led by Professor Maree Teesson and Dr Nicola Newton aimed at preventing substance use and mental health problems among Australian youth.

The study, currently underway across three states in Australia – WA, QLD and NSW, is testing the effectiveness of a new program aimed at preventing both substance use and mental health problems among adolescents. The program combines effective online prevention approaches for substance use disorders developed over more than a decade at NDARC, with an intervention which targets symptoms of anxiety and depression developed by researchers and clinicians at the Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression at St Vincent’s Hospital.

I recently presented the progress on the study to date at both the NDARC Annual Symposium and also at the NDARC staff seminar.  The presentation focused not only on some of the achievements so far in terms of great engagement with schools and world-class follow-up rates, but also on some of the challenges in conducting a multi-state trial across independent, Catholic and State schools. The schools have been cluster randomised to one of four groups; (i) CLIMATE Schools Combined intervention; (ii) CLIMATE Schools - Substance Use; (iii) CLIMATE Schools - Mental Health, or (iv) Control (Health and Physical Education as usual).

The primary outcomes of the trial will be the uptake and harmful use of alcohol and other drugs, mental health symptomatology and anxiety, depression and substance use knowledge. Interventions were delivered in 2014 and 2015 and students are being followed up until the end of 2016, with 30-month data collection underway at the moment.

The staff presentation was followed by some lively discussion from the floor about the challenges in conducting school-based research and on the importance of meeting these challenges in order to increase the evidence-base and to translate evidence into practice among school communities. The questions and comments covered everything from scientific methodology and controlling for confounding factors to cultural diversity and how to meet the needs of young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.  

The CSC Study is the first trial, internationally, to develop an integrative online prevention model for mental health and substance use problems among adolescents. The results of the study will be available next year.

The study is a collaboration between the Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use at NDARC, CRUfAD at St Vincent’s Hospital, the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University, and The Queensland University of Technology. Click here to read the study’s protocol paper.