A New Study Tested Integrated Health Programs in Boston Public High Schools

Treatments like acupuncture, aromatherapy, and sound therapy reduced students' stress and anxiety.

When you were in high school, health education was likely limited to awkward sex-ed talks and climbing a rope in gym class. Soon, it may look a little different.

A new study conducted by Dr. Nada Milosavljevic, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a instructor at Harvard Medical School, tested the impact of “integrated health programs” (IHPs) in three public high schools in Boston—to great success.

Milosavljevic’s aim was to measure the impact of alternative programming like acupuncture, sound therapy, and aromatherapy on students’ stress and anxiety levels. Students who met the DSM-IV’s criteria for anxiety or stress disorders took part in weekly 30-minute treatment sessions during the school day, and after the 10-week trial program wrapped, all of the roughly 100 participants self reported less anxiety and better overall wellness.

In a statement, Milosavljevic says the results prove that IHPs can have a lasting impact on young people:

“The use of integrative protocols and sensory therapies such as acupuncture and aromatherapy offers many benefits to teens suffering from anxiety disorders including self-empowerment, self-care, and long-term preventive care.”

Studies like this one are important—anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults. And the stats aren’t much better for adolescents—8 percent of teenagers ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, and only 18 percent of them receive the treatment they need, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In-school programming like those tested in the study could make it far easier for teenagers to manage their conditions, while simultaneously cutting down on school absenteeism caused by doctor’s appointments.

The study’s authors are “optimistic” that similar programs can be permanently implemented in schools across the Commonwealth—which means students may soon be squeezing aromatherapy sessions in between algebra and U.S. history.