A randomised controlled trial of a universal and targeted intervention to reduce mental health problems from bullying among school students

A randomised controlled trial of a universal and targeted intervention to reduce mental health problems from bullying

Consequences of Cyberbullying

Australian school students report among the highest prevalence rates of aggression and bullying in OECD countries. A key determinant of young peoples’ mental health and wellbeing are their experiences of bullying as a victim or perpetrator. A wide spectrum of psychological harms are associated with being bullied including suicidal ideation, eating disorders, self-harming behaviours, low self-esteem, and social isolation. Moreover, bullying has been shown to contribute uniquely and directly to serious long-term mental health problems and remains a major public health problem in Australia and elsewhere.

The Project

The limited effectiveness of whole-school bullying programs on mental health outcomes may be partly due to school wide universal programs targeting all students, whereas only a proportion of students (10-20%) may be engaged in the perpetration of bullying. Direct intervention with students who bully others as well as working with other students as part of a whole-school approach is key to support and encourage positive behaviour change. Whilst the prevalence of bullying victimisation declines with increasing age, the prevalence of perpetration does not. Moreover, a paucity exists in ‘targeted’ evidence-based interventions to assist school staff to prompt positive behaviour change in young people who frequently bully others. One such promising intervention is Motivational Interviewing (MI), a person centred, yet goal directed counselling approach that aims to elicit and strengthen personal motivation for change, and shown internationally to have success with adolescents to reduce, disaffection with schooling, violent behaviour, drug use, eating disorders, while also promoting positive academic behaviours and performance with middle school students.

This study is the first to test under RCT conditions the effectiveness of providing both a universal and targeted training intervention aimed at supporting school staff who work with students that engage in bullying behaviour. It is anticipated that this study will support positive behaviour change with students, increase the self-efficacy of staff, particularly specialist pastoral care staff such as school psychologists; decrease bullying perpetration and victimisation among students; and decrease levels of depressive and anxious symptomatology among students.


Using a RCT design this four-year project will work with education systems and staff in Western Australian schools, and in particular school psychologists and pastoral care staff, to test the effectiveness of the ‘universal’ bullying prevention program Friendly Schools Plus (FS+) and a ‘targeted’ Motivational Interviewing (MI) intervention to reduce the perpetration of bullying behaviour by Year 8 and 9 students identified as bullying others, while also supporting a reduction in mental health symptomatology (in particular anxious and depressive symptomatology) in all students. To achieve this aim, it is planned for 30 secondary schools to be recruited from across WA, stratified by school sector, size and SES. These schools will be randomly assigned to one of three test conditions.


Funding / Grants

  • National Health & Medical Research Council

Other Team Members