Teaching positive thinking skills in primary schools can significantly reduce students' depression and anxiety, Curtin University research has found.
The study tested more than 460 nine and 10-year-old students from 11 schools in disadvantaged areas before and immediately after they took part in the Aussie Optimism Program, a 10-week course developed at Curtin.
Another 443 Year 4 students from a different set of 11 schools in poor areas were assigned to a control group that received regular health lessons only.
Students had to fill in questionnaires on depression and anxiety and their parents reported on their behaviour at home.
All students were assessed again six months after they took part in the program and 18 months later.
Lead researcher Rosanna Rooney, from Curtin's School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, said the results were encouraging.
"Children in the intervention group reported a significant reduction in depressive symptoms and parent-reported emotional difficulties after taking part in the program," she said.
But further investigation was needed to see if the program could have a long-term impact.
"These findings suggest that Aussie Optimism Program Positive Thinking Skills has the potential to treat symptoms of depression in the immediate term but that the effects were not sustained," she said.
Previous research has found 14 per cent of Australian children aged between four and 17 experience mental health problems, of which anxiety and depression are the most common.
The Aussie Optimism Program teaches children to identify and challenge negative thoughts about themselves. Students also learn listening skills, assertiveness, negotiation, social problem-solving skills, decision-making and how to cope with stress.
The study was published in the Behaviour Research and Therapy journal.