Highlights in Child Mental Health Research: May 2019
Various, Australia, 2019
This monthly research summary provides a selection of recently released papers, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses related to infant and child mental health.
Each summary includes an introductory overview of the content for that month, followed by a list of selected articles. Each article is accompanied by a brief synopsis which presents the key messages and highlights. Links to abstracts, full-text articles and related resources, where available, are provided.
What's new this month in child mental health research?
The mental health of Australian children
The May 2019 Research Highlights contains three important research articles related to the emotional well-being and mental health of Australian children. These articles will be of interest to practitioners, service providers, and policy-makers with a role in supporting children and families.
Mental health service use by Australian children
A landmark research study by Hiscock and colleagues (2019) offers multiple important findings on the use of mental health services by families, including that only 9 to 27% of Australian children with mental health problems were found to have received mental health services. The researchers also discuss characteristics found to be associated with mental health service use by this sub-group of children.
Jadambaa and colleagues (2019) synthesised 46 research studies to produce prevalence rates of traditional bullying and cyber-bullying in Australia.
Parental work-family conflict
A research study by Vahedi and colleagues (2019) illustrates the potential for parents’ work-family conflict to cross over into their parenting, and the possibility of subsequent influences on children’s mental health.
Potentially-modifiable factors that may promote children’s mental health
Interesting research findings continue to emerge that discuss potentially modifiable factors that may promote children’s mental health. These articles are relevant to professionals, researchers, organisations and policymakers, especially those interested in prevention and early intervention.
– Loewen and colleagues (2019) used a sample of 3,436 Canadian children to explore the association between meeting established lifestyle recommendations during childhood with subsequent mental health in adolescence. These recommendations were related to lifestyle factors, such as physical activity, added sugar, screen-time and sleep. The researchers found that the level of compliance to lifestyle recommendations in childhood was associated with fewer mental health visits in adolescence.
– A UK study by Marsh and colleagues (2019) found “living in a more crowded home was associated with a greater risk of behavioural problems” (p. 1).
Use and predictors of health services among Australian children with mental health problems: A national prospective study (Australia)
Authors: Hiscock, H., Mulraney, M., Efron, D., Freed, G., Coghill, D., Sciberras, E., Warren, H., & Sawyer, M.
Journal: Australian Journal of Psychology
This study used a sample of 4,983 Australian children (aged 8 to 13 years) with mental health problems to:
- Determine the proportion that received mental health services.
- Determine the characteristics associated with mental health service use by these children.
The researchers achieved these aims through conducting a prospective analysis of linked data from parental surveys about their children’s mental health and data related to Medicare-rebated mental health service use. The data were obtained from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), which is a nationally representative longitudinal study.
The key findings were:
- Only 9 to 27% of children with mental health problems had accessed mental health services. “Most [Australian] children do not receive mental health services” (p. 1).
- The majority of Medicare-rebated mental health services were delivered by GP’s, psychologists and paediatricians.
- Children who were from disadvantaged families were less likely to have received Medicare-rebated mental health services for emotional problems.
- Children whose families spoke a language other than English were less likely to have received Medicare-rebated mental health services for emotional problems.
- Characteristics associated with a greater use of mental health services by children with mental health problems were:
- having symptoms that were more severe.
- having a parent that perceived that their child needed help.
- being a young boy.
- being older in age.
This research study is likely to be of high interest to practitioners, service providers and policy-makers seeking to promote children’s emotional well-being.
Read the abstract here.
Read the related article from “The Conversation” here.
Prevalence of traditional bullying and cyberbullying among children and adolescents in Australia: A systematic review and meta-analysis (Australia)
Authors: Jadambaa, A., Thomas, H.J., Scott, J.G., Graves, N., Brain, D., & Pacella, R.
Journal: The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
- These researchers synthesised 46 Australian studies exploring the prevalence of bullying. Prevalence studies for both victimisation experiences (i.e. being bullied) and perpetration experiences (i.e. bullying others) were included.
- The aim was to estimate the prevalence of traditional bullying and cyberbullying in Australian children and adolescents.
- The key findings were:
- The lifetime prevalence was around 25% for bullying victimisation and around 11% for bullying perpetration. Lifetime prevalence is the proportion of a population that will be exposed to that experience sometime in their life.
- Cyberbullying was less common, with a lifetime prevalence of around 7% for victimisation and 3% for perpetration.
- Importantly, the researchers propose that “wide implementation of anti-bullying programmes in Australian schools is a viable public health approach for the prevention of mental health problems” (p. 1).
- The findings and recommendations outlined by these researchers will be of interest to practitioners, education providers (e.g. teachers) and policy-makers.
Read the abstract here.
Crossover of parents’ work-family conflict to family functioning and child mental health (Australia)
Authors: Vahedi, A., Krug, I., & Westrupp, E.
Journal: Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
These researchers used a large sample of 3,061 Australian children (ranging in age from 4 years to 15 years) to investigate:
- The potential crossover between parents’ work-family conflict and inter-parental conflict, and possible subsequent influences on child/adolescent mental health.
- The potential crossover between parents’ work-family conflict and parenting irritability, and possible subsequent influences on child/adolescent mental health.
The study’s key findings (outlined on p. 38) include:
- “Work-family conflict influences inter-parental conflict and parenting irritability.”
- “Work-family conflict poses ongoing influences on child/adolescent mental health.”
- “Work-family conflict influences children via both parents’ parenting irritability”
The researchers propose that their findings illustrate the potential for parents’ work-family conflict to cross over into their parenting, and the possibility of subsequent influences on their children’s mental health.
These findings are likely to be of interest to child mental health researchers, as well as policy-makers seeking to promote positive family functioning and the mental health of both children and parents.
Read the abstract here.
The association between crowding within households and behavioural problems in children: Longitudinal data from the Southampton Women’s Survey (England)
Authors: Marsh, Rachael; Salika, Theodosia; Crozier, Sarah; Robinson, Sian; Cooper, Cyrus; Godfrey, Keith; Inskip, Hazel; Baird, Janis
Journal: Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology
This study investigated whether the level of crowding in the home was associated with behavioural problems in a UK cohort of children. The researchers interviewed mothers of 2,576 children from a mother-offspring cohort.
The key findings were:
- “In households that were more crowded, children tended to have more behavioural problems” (p. 1).
- Maternal stress, less sleep (by children) and strained parent-child interactions appeared to be important factors in the above relationship.
Given that “living in a more crowded home was associated with a greater risk of behavioural problems” (p. 1), household crowding offers a potentially-modifiable risk factor for promoting children’s mental health.
This research is likely to be of interest to policy makers, as well as those in the prevention and early intervention sectors who are seeking potentially-modifiable factors to promote children’s mental health.
As the researchers importantly highlight, this study also provides evidence to support (p. 8):
- “Categorising children in crowded households as ‘at risk’ and taking [appropriate] action” (e.g., through referring to appropriate support services for the child/family).
- Prevention and early intervention strategies that address maternal stress, less sleep, and strained parent-child interactions, such as parenting interventions.
- Improvements to social housing to reduce crowding.
Read the free full text here.
Lifestyle Behavior and Mental Health in Early Adolescence (Canada)
Authors: Loewen, Olivia K.; Maximova, Katerina; Ekwaru, John P.; Faught, Erin L.; Asbridge, Mark; Ohinmaa, Arto; Veugelers, Paul J.
These researchers used a large population-based sample of 3,436 Canadian children (aged 10 to 11 years old) to investigate the associations between meeting established lifestyle recommendations during childhood with subsequent mental illness in adolescence.
The established lifestyle recommendations explored were made up of 9 recommendations related to:
- Fruit and vegetables (i.e. at least 6 servings per day)
- Meat and alternatives (i.e. 2 or less servings per day)
- Milk and alternatives (i.e. 3 or more servings per day)
- Grain products (i.e. at least 6 servings per day)
- Saturated fat (i.e. less than 10% of total energy intake)
- Added sugar (i.e. less than 10% of total energy intake)
- Sufficient levels of physical activity
- Screen time (i.e. no more than 2 hours of recreational screen time per day)
- Sleep (i.e. 9 to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night)
The key findings were:
- Children that had met 4 to 6 lifestyle recommendations had 39% fewer mental health visits with a physician on follow-up compared to children that met 1 to 3 recommendations.
- Children that had met 7 to 9 recommendations had 56% fewer mental health visits with a physician on follow-up compared to children that met 1 to 3 recommendations.
- “Every additional recommendation met was associated with 15% fewer physician visits for mental illnesses” (p. 1).
Given that the researchers found that “mental illness in early adolescence was associated with compliance to lifestyle recommendations in childhood” (p. 1), these lifestyle behaviours may hold promise as potentially-modifiable risk factors for promoting children’s mental health.
These research findings will be of interest to policy-makers, as well as practitioners and service providers who may wish to emphasise lifestyle recommendations as a means of supporting childrens’ emotional wellbeing and mental health.
An examination of partner violence, polyexposure, and mental health functioning in a sample of clinically referred youth (USA)
Authors: Stover, Carla Smith; Ippen, Chandra Ghosh; Liang, Li-Jung; Briggs, Ernestine C.; Berkowitz, Steven J.
Journal: Psychology of Violence
Highlights and Key Messages:
A wealth of research with children has demonstrated that witnessing partner violence (WPV) is associated with poor emotional, behavioural, and functioning outcomes. WPV is defined as being exposed to abuse directed towards an adult caregiver.
This study added to existing research by investigating the co-occurrence of WPV with other potentially traumatic events (PTE’s), as well as their association with mental health outcomes.
The researchers used a sample of 8,446 North American youth (aged 7 to 18 years) who had been referred for treatment at a National Child Traumatic Stress Network Centre.
The key findings were:
- Witnessing partner violence was associated with increased rates of exposure to 4 or more potentially traumatic events (known as “polyexposure”).
- Youth who had witnessed partner violence were more than twice as likely to experience polyexposure.
- Youth who were exposed to WPV before age 2 were at a significantly greater risk of polyexposure (compared to youth exposed to WPV at age 7 or older). These youth also showed greater levels of externalising behaviours (i.e. problematic behaviours that are directed outwards), psychiatric co-morbidity and impaired functioning.
- Exposure to WPV was found to be independently associated with functioning impairment in a range of settings, including home, school, and the community.
As the researchers highlight, this study demonstrates the importance of early screening by health and social services to identify (and subsequently support) children who have witnessed partner violence and their families. This early identification and intervention may help reduce potential difficulties associated with witnessing partner violence, as well as decrease exposure to additional traumatic events.
The findings and implications of this research article are of interest to practitioners, service providers and policy-makers, particularly given the high prevalence of witnessing partner violence in childhood.
Read the abstract here.