Efficacy of psychosocial interventions for mental health outcomes in low-income and middle-income countries : an umbrella review

Background Mental health conditions are leading causes of disability worldwide. Psychosocial interventions for these conditions might have a key role in their treatment, although applicability of findings to poor-resource settings might be a challenge. We aimed to evaluate the strength and credibility of evidence generated in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) on the efficacy of psychosocial interventions for various mental health outcomes.


Methods We did an umbrella review of meta-analyses of randomised studies done in LMICs. Literature searches were done in Medline, Embase, PsychINFO, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, and Epistemonikos from Jan 1, 2010, until May 31, 2019. Systematic reviews of randomised studies investigating the efficacy of psychosocial interventions for mental health conditions in LMICs were included. Systematic reviews of promotion, prevention, and protection interventions were excluded, because the focus was on treatment interventions only. Information on first author, year of publication, outcomes, number of included studies, and reported summary meta-analytic estimates was extracted from included meta-analyses. Summary effects were recalculated using a common metric and random-effects models. We assessed between-study heterogeneity, predictive intervals, publication bias, small-study effects, and whether the results of the observed positive studies were more than expected by chance. On the basis of these calculations, strength of associations was assessed using quantitative umbrella review criteria, and credibility of evidence using the GRADE approach. This study is registered with PROSPERO, number CRD42019135711. 


Findings 123 primary studies from ten systematic reviews were included. The evidence on the efficacy of psychosocial interventions in adults with depression in humanitarian settings (standardised mean difference 0·87, 95% CI 0·67–1·07; highly suggestive association, GRADE: moderate) and in adults with common mental disorders (0·49, 0·36–0·62; highly suggestive association, GRADE: moderate) was supported by the most robust evidence. Highly suggestive strength of association was found for psychosocial interventions in adults with schizophrenia for functional outcomes, in adults with depression, and in adults with post-traumatic stress disorder in humanitarian settings. In children in humanitarian settings, and in children with disruptive behaviour, psychosocial interventions were supported by suggestive evidence of efficacy.


Interpretation A relatively large amount of evidence suggests the benefit of psychosocial interventions on various mental health outcomes in LMICs. However, strength of associations and credibility of evidence were quite variable, depending on the target mental health condition, type of population and setting, and outcome of interest. This varied evidence should be considered in the development of clinical, policy, and implementation programmes in LMICs and should prompt further studies to improve the strength and credibility of the evidence base.


Funding University of Verona.

Corrado Barbui, Marianna Purgato, Jibril Abdulmalik, Ceren Acarturk, Julian Eaton, Chiara Gastaldon, Oye Gureje, Charlotte Hanlon, Mark Jordans, Crick Lund, Michela Nosè, Giovanni Ostuzzi, Davide Papola, Federico Tedeschi, Wietse Tol, Giulia Turrini, Vikram Patel, Graham Thornicroft | 2020
In: The Lancet Psychiatry ; ISSN : 2215-0366 | 7 | 2 | februari | 162-172
Developing Countries, Efficacy, Government Programs, Interventions, Literature Review, Low‐income countries, Mental health, Prevention, Psychotherapy, Randomized Clinical Trial, Statistical Analysis, Systematic Review