Act and Adapt

Helping Latino and African American Students Get Early Treatment for Depression

Posted May 10, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Blog actandadapt 2021

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

A lack of men­tal health ser­vices for ado­les­cents in Lati­no and African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties ele­vates their risk of devel­op­ing depres­sion. With sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, DePaul Uni­ver­si­ty Clin­i­cal Psy­chol­o­gy Pro­fes­sor Anto­nio Polo is eval­u­at­ing and expand­ing the use of Act and Adapt, a pro­gram that iden­ti­fies mid­dle school­ers in Chicago’s pub­lic school sys­tem who are show­ing signs of depres­sion or anx­i­ety and offers resources to help, includ­ing skills to man­age day-to-day stres­sors. With the help of an online plat­form, the pro­gram will reach school dis­tricts out­side Chica­go dur­ing the 20212022 school year. One of those sys­tems will be the Prov­i­dence Pub­lic School Dis­trict, where CYC, for­mer­ly known as the Prov­i­dence Chil­dren and Youth Cab­i­net, is adding Act and Adapt to its suite of evi­dence-based pre­ven­tion pro­grams as part of the Foundation’s Evidence2Success® frame­work.

Rec­og­niz­ing the need for men­tal health ser­vices in under­served adolescents

Rates of depres­sion rise steeply around ear­ly ado­les­cence,” says Polo. Once you have a prob­lem with depres­sion and anx­i­ety, it often takes years to be addressed. Pro­grams like Act and Adapt get a jump on help­ing stu­dents deal with this.”

Imple­ment­ing Act and Adapt in the Chica­go Pub­lic School (CPS) dis­trict — the country’s third largest school sys­tem, serv­ing about 350,000 stu­dents — meant that Polo could bring men­tal health ser­vices to stu­dents who might not oth­er­wise have access to them, includ­ing low-income African Amer­i­can and Lati­no fam­i­lies, as well as immi­grant fam­i­lies. One study found that Lati­no ado­les­cents were 53% less like­ly and African Amer­i­can ado­les­cents were 87% less like­ly than their white, non-His­pan­ic peers to receive treat­ment for depres­sion.

Our sup­port of Act and Adapt fur­thers our mis­sion to build evi­dence-based pro­grams and prac­tices that focus on com­mu­ni­ties of col­or and improve out­comes for chil­dren, youth and fam­i­lies,” says Ilene Berman, a senior asso­ciate in the Casey Foundation’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group. When young people’s men­tal health needs are met and they devel­op cop­ing skills to deal with the pres­sures in their lives, they are much more able to thrive in school and beyond.”

Using cog­ni­tive behav­ioral ther­a­py tech­niques and cop­ing skills

Act and Adapt uses cog­ni­tive behav­ioral ther­a­py tech­niques and cop­ing skills to help stu­dents exam­ine and man­age their emo­tions. One or two facil­i­ta­tors — typ­i­cal­ly school psy­chol­o­gists, school coun­selors, or social work­ers — deliv­er the pro­gram to groups of five to six stu­dents, help­ing the stu­dents iden­ti­fy things that are caus­ing them stress. Under Act and Adapt, stres­sors are then divid­ed into two cat­e­gories: those that youth can change them­selves (Act) and those they can’t and must man­age (Adapt).

To gauge how well the pro­gram works, Polo and his team assess stu­dents before and after com­plet­ing Act and Adapt. Using well-estab­lished mea­sures of depres­sion symp­toms, the pro­gram pri­or­i­tizes ser­vices for stu­dents most in need of them. More impor­tant­ly, results con­sis­tent­ly show that stu­dents exhib­it few­er symp­toms of depres­sion after com­plet­ing the pro­gram than when they started.

Since the pro­gram began part­ner­ing with the CPS Office for Social and Emo­tion­al Learn­ing in 2017, more than 130 school providers have been trained on the pro­gram across 64 schools. The first few years with Casey sup­port were instru­men­tal in devel­op­ing the effi­ca­cy with the pop­u­la­tions that we want to tar­get,” says Polo. When the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic hit, Act and Adapt groups went online, retain­ing the core com­po­nents of the pro­gram but using short­er ses­sions and oth­er adap­ta­tions to stay con­nect­ed with stu­dents and facilitators.

Build­ing a plat­form for data and expansion

Casey also helped con­nect Act and Adapt to a tech­nol­o­gy firm expe­ri­enced in devel­op­ing online plat­forms to track how well evi­dence-based pro­grams are being imple­ment­ed, col­lect data and lay the ground­work for fur­ther expan­sion. The firm is devel­op­ing a cen­tral­ized online hub for Act and Adapt to house mod­ules on screen­ing and eli­gi­bil­i­ty, pro­gram engage­ment and adher­ence, eval­u­a­tion and resources for providers. As you get larg­er, you want to be able to sup­port your pro­gram with some­thing that is either more auto­mat­ed or that is user-friend­ly and that’s not too much work to sup­port,” Polo says. Over the past year, the fund­ing we’ve received has enabled us to trans­late Act and Adapt into a more sophis­ti­cat­ed and resource­ful plat­form that allows for many things to be done.”

Watch a webi­nar about devel­op­ing evi­dence for pro­grams that serve youth of color

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