Academic stress interventions in high schools: a systematic literature review

Tess Jagiello, Jessica Belcher, Aswathi Neelakandan, Kaylee Boyd, Viviana M. Wuthrich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The experience of academic stress is common during high school and can have significant negative consequences for students' educational achievement and wellbeing. High school students frequently report heightened levels of school-related distress, particularly as they approach high-stakes assessments. Programs designed to reduce or prevent academic stress are needed, and their delivery in school settings is ideal to improve treatment access. The current review aimed to examine the effectiveness of high school-based programs in reducing or preventing academic stress. A systematic search returned 31 eligible studies across 13 countries. Programs were categorised according to intervention type, format, and facilitator. Results showed that the methodological quality of most studies was poor, and many used an inactive control group. As predicted by theories of academic stress, the strongest evidence was for programs grounded in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). There was evidence that both universal and targeted approaches can be beneficial. The unique implementation issues for these two formats are discussed. Most programs were delivered by psychologists and were generally effective, but almost all of these were CBT programs. A smaller proportion of programs delivered by teachers were effective. Therefore, future studies should evaluate the implementation success of programs to improve the rate of effective delivery by school staff. Overall, the field will benefit from more randomised controlled trials with comparisons to active control groups, larger sample sizes and longer-term follow-ups.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages34
JournalChild Psychiatry and Human Development
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Mar 2024


  • academic stress
  • high school
  • psychological interventions
  • school-based programs
  • test anxiety


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