Mental health problems have been increasingly recognised as one of the most significant health concerns for children and adolescents in developed countries. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety disorders are two of the top five causes of overall illness for children and adolescents in Europe. In many cases, development of symptoms starts before a child's 14th birthday.

The impacts can be severe and long-lasting. Mental health issues, including depression, are one of the leading causes of suicide among adolescents. The risk for developing depression or anxiety disorders can also be greater for children from disadvantaged or challenging backgrounds.

Despite the difficulties associated with depression and anxiety disorders for individuals, they can be treated. Early diagnosis and access to treatment are crucial in ensuring effectiveness. But not only are they treatable, they are also preventable. Accordingly, policymakers and practitioners alike are increasingly looking for evidence on interventions that might be effective in preventing the development of anxiety and/or depression in children.

However, a review of the available evidence by RAND Europe researchers from the European Platform for Investing in Children, shows that the quality of existing evaluations can make drawing conclusions about 'what works' difficult.

Available evaluations seem to vary greatly in their design, making it hard to draw comparisons between studies and build a convincing evidence base. The review also raised questions around the use of control groups and the occurrence of biases in evaluations, which will significantly impact study results.

Because of these issues, there is still a lot that is unknown in terms of what could help prevent the development of depression and anxiety in children.

Read the full article about preventing depression and anxiety by Michaela Bruckmayer at RAND Corporation.