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Promoting Mental Health in the Early Years: Effective Psychosocial Interventions

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Background: Children’s social and emotional wellbeing is crucial for health development. Consequently intervening in the early years, to prevent and treat mental disorders, can help to set the foundation for flourishing and resilience across the lifespan.

Method: We used systematic review methods to identify effective psychosocial interventions for preventing and treating especially common mental disorders for children six years or younger: anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behaviour disorders.

Results: Cognitive-behavioural therapy was effective for preventing and treating anxiety with six programs showing success. Parent training interventions were effective in preventing and treating ADHD — with seven programs showing some success. Parent training interventions were also effective in preventing and treating behaviour problems — with 13 programs showing success. Strong evidence was also found for the cost-effectiveness of prevention programs.

Conclusion: Offering effective prevention programs to all in need will help to create conditions that enable more children to flourish and meet their potential. As well, early identification of all young children with mental disorders and providing them with timely, effective treatments will help reduce suffering. By investing in effective mental health interventions in early childhood, benefits accrue not just for individual children and families but also for society as a whole.
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