Online Program

Addressing the consequences of war: A randomized controlled trial of a group intervention to improve emotion regulation, prosocial skills and functioning in war-affected youth

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 4:45 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Theresa Betancourt, ScD, MA, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights; Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard University / Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Ryan McBain, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Elizabeth Newnham, PhD, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, Boston, MA
Katrina Hann, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, Boston, MA
Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith, PhD, Department of Psychology, City College of New York, NY
Robert Brennan, EdD, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
John Weisz, PhD, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Boston
Nathan B. Hansen, Ph.D., Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Background: Worldwide, over one billion children and adolescents live in war-affected regions. These youth represent a uniquely vulnerable population at heightened risk of developing mental health problems, interpersonal difficulties and impairments in daily functioning. This study tested the effectiveness of a stabilization and skills-focused mental health intervention for multi-symptomatic, war-affected youth. Methods: A randomized controlled trial was conducted in Freetown, Sierra Leone for youth (N=436, ages 15-24 years old) who exhibited psychological distress and functional impairments who were not enrolled in school. The Youth Readiness Intervention (YRI) is a group-based behavioral treatment targeting co-occurring emotion dysregulation/anger-management difficulties, deficits in interpersonal skills, psychological distress and functional impairments in war-affected youth. Participants were randomly assigned and enrolled in either the YRI (n=222) or a control condition (n=214). YRI participants received the group intervention once per week over a 10 week period and were assessed pre and post-YRI for emotion regulation/anger-management skills, functional impairment, psychological distress, and prosocial attitudes/behavior. Secondary outcomes were social support and post-traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms. Results. Post-intervention, YRI participants reported significant improvements in emotion regulation skills, prosocial attitudes/behaviors, and improvements in day-to-day functioning compared to controls. YRI participants also reported greater perceived social support. The two conditions showed similar levels of improvement in psychological distress and PTS symptoms. Conclusions. The YRI improved emotion regulation, prosocial skills, social supports and daily functioning among war-affected youth. Future research should investigate adding additional components to address PTS and depression symptoms and how to link such interventions to education and employment programs.

Learning Areas:

Administer health education strategies, interventions and programs
Assessment of individual and community needs for health education
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe a group psychosocial intervention program to improve mental health outcomes among war-affected youth. Discuss mental health and functioning outcomes among YRI participants compared to those of a non-intervention control group.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been the Principal Investigator of multiple federally funded grants focusing on the developmental and psychosocial consequences of concentrated adversity on children and families, resilience and protective processes in child and adolescent mental health, and applied cross-cultural mental health research. My research aims to provide effective protections and services for children and families affected by communal violence/armed conflict, HIV/AIDS, and other forms of adversity.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.