BACKGROUND: Educational interventions engage youth using visual, literary and performing arts to combat stigma associated with mental health problems. However, it remains unknown whether arts interventions are effective in reducing mental-health-related stigma among youth and if so, then which specific art forms, duration and stigma-related components in content are successful.

METHODS: We searched 13 databases, including PubMed, Medline, Global Health, EMBASE, ADOLEC, Social Policy and Practice, Database of Promoting Health Effectiveness Reviews (DoPHER), Trials Register of Promoting Health Interventions (TRoPHI), EPPI-Centre database of health promotion research (Bibliomap), Web of Science, PsycINFO, Cochrane and Scopus for studies involving arts interventions aimed at reducing any or all components of mental-health-related stigma among youth (10-24-year-olds). Risk of bias was assessed using the Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP) Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies. Data were extracted into tables and analysed using RevMan 5.3.5.

RESULTS: Fifty-seven studies met our inclusion criteria (n = 41,621). Interventions using multiple art forms are effective in improving behaviour towards people with mental health problems to a small effect (effect size = 0.28, 95%CI 0.08-0.48; p = 0.007) No studies reported negative outcomes or unintended harms. Among studies using specific art forms, we observed high heterogeneity among intervention studies using theatre, multiple art forms, film and role play. Data in this review are inconclusive about the use of single versus multiple sessions and whether including all stigma components of knowledge, attitude and behaviour as intervention content are more effective relative to studies focused on these stigma components, individually. Common challenges faced by school-based arts interventions included lack of buy-in from school administrators and low engagement. No studies were reported from low- and middle-income countries.

CONCLUSION: Arts interventions are effective in reducing mental-health-related stigma to a small effect. Interventions that employ multiple art forms together compared to studies employing film, theatre or role play are likely more effective in reducing mental-health-related stigma.