Resource Summary

The 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 the 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?

This month’s highlights include:

Evidence suggests that children and young people exposed to extreme weather events are at risk of psychological effects including feelings of stress, anxiety and trauma and depression symptoms. This viewpoint article explores the evidence on mental health impacts of climate change and youth climate activism as a resilience strategy. It is co-authored by WA young people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal academics, activists and practitioners engaged in youth, mental health and climate justice spaces.

This systematic review and meta-analysis investigate whether resilience programs with psychotherapeutic approaches for children and adolescents are effective in promoting resilience. The findings show that programs promoting resilience were effective among adolescents. It also found that programs had lasting benefits of up to 6 months and may lead to other beneficial outcomes like decreasing stress, depression and anxiety symptoms.      

This study investigated the effects of screen exposure and objectively measured sleep on behaviour problems in the preschool age using a technique called ‘actigraphy’.  The study found that sleep duration interacts with screen time and the combination of increased screen exposure and decreased sleep duration may be particularly adverse for child mental health.

This systematic review demonstrates the importance of positive psychology interventions with young children to promote positive aspects of development, such as gratitude, positive emotions, life satisfaction, accomplishment, positive relationship, or self-esteem. The paper also describes factors that support intervention effectiveness.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children: Additional resources, research, and reports

Recently released toolkit on COVID-19:

This free evidence-based toolkit by the MacKillop Institute has discussion prompts to support young people understand and manage the social and emotional impacts of the pandemic. It is designed to support the mental health of children and young people, who often don’t have the resources, support or life experience to help them cope with the ongoing and changing demands of remote learning, social isolation and safety concerns as a result of COVID-19. The “Seasons Toolkit: Riding the Waves of Change” is suitable for all young people of high school age and may be suitable for some Year 6 student school groups.

 

Recently release research on COVID-19:

This study explores whether youth with mental disorders show a higher pandemic-associated psychological burden than healthy children and adolescents, and which psychiatric diagnoses are particularly associated with a higher distress level. It found that children and adolescents with a mental illness showed a significantly higher psychological burden than their mentally healthy peers during COVID-19 restrictions, especially girls and those with depressive disorder.

Climate change and mental health of children and young people

Climate change, activism, and supporting the mental health of children and young people: Perspectives from Western Australia

Authors: Godden N.J, Farrant B. M., Yallup Farrant J., Heyink, E., Carot Collins E., Burgemeister, B., et al.

Journal: Journal of Paediatrics & Child Health

Highlights 

  • The climate crisis has detrimental impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. First Nations’ children and young people are particularly at risk due to loss of place, identity and culture, and connection to Country can enhance climate resilience.
  • This viewpoint article explores the evidence on mental health impacts of climate change and youth climate activism as a resilience strategy. It is co-authored by WA young people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal academics, activists and practitioners engaged in youth, mental health and climate justice spaces.

Key findings

  • Emerging Australian and international evidence suggests that children and young people who are directly exposed to rapid onset extreme weather events (e.g. bushfires, floods, cyclones) and slow-onset extreme weather events (e.g. droughts) are at risk of various psychological effects.
  • Psychological effects include stress; PTSD; depression; anxiety; phobias; panic disorder; sleep disturbances; attachment disorders; learning difficulties; substance abuse; shock and trauma symptoms; adjustment problems; behavioural problems; suicidal thinking and feelings of fear, overwhelm, worry, distress, hopelessness and anger.
  • WA’s climate health public enquiry evidence suggests health professionals are seriously concerned about the mental health impacts of climate change on children, young people and Aboriginal peoples, and there is insufficient evidence on how children will cope with climate change as a psychological stressor and what interventions could support them.
  • Children and young people engaged in organised action to mitigate the impacts of climate change can manage their anxiety, maintain optimism about the future and have enhanced resilience.

Implications

  • More evidence is needed on how to appropriately support mental health of children and young people in the face of climate change.
  • Practitioners and mental health services must work with children and young people across cultures to co-design culturally safe and appropriate strategies that support and increase resilience in the face of psychological impacts of climate change.

 

Read the full text

Effectiveness of resilience programs for children and adolescents

Resilience Programs for Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Authors: Pinto T.M., Laurence, P.G., Macedo, C.R. and Macedo, E.C.

Journal: Frontiers in Psychology

Highlights

  • Resilience is increasingly being recognised as a protective trait to adapt to adverse situations. Resilience can be developed and implementing strategies that promote resilience in childhood may be useful due to the greater brain plasticity and learning capacity during this stage.
  • This is the first systematic review to investigate whether resilience programs with psychotherapeutic approaches for children and adolescents are effective in promoting resilience.

Key findings

  • 17 randomised control trials were included in the analysis with good representation of Australian studies (five in total).
  • Programs aimed at promoting resilience were effective across all population ages, but when children and adolescents were analysed separately, programs were found to be not effective for children. However, this may be due to the low number of studies in the children’s subgroup, which may not have been enough to provide significant changes in resilience levels.
  • The review also found that the resilience programs studied had ongoing benefits of up to six months. These results were not analysed separately for adolescents and children.
  • Programs may lead to diverse beneficial outcomes, not only improving resilience, but also decreasing stress and depression, anxiety symptoms and psychological distress, internalizing problems and reducing consumption of illicit substances.

Implications

  • This study provides strong evidence to suggest programs with psychotherapeutic strategies to promote resilience are effective and could be considered by practitioners working with children and adolescents.

 

Read the full text

Sleep, screen time and behaviour problems in children

Sleep, screen time and behaviour problems in preschool children: an actigraphy study

Authors: Kahn, M., Schnabel, O., Gradisar M., Rozen, G.S., Slone, M., Atzaba-Poria N., et al.

Journal: European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Highlights

  • Inadequate sleep and excessive exposure to media screens have both been linked to poorer mental health in youth.
  • This study is the first to test the effects of screen exposure and objectively measured sleep on behaviour problems in the preschool age using a technique called ‘actigraphy’.

Key findings

  • A total of 145 children aged 3-to-6-years participated in this cross-sectional study
  • Sleep duration, timing and efficiency were associated with screen exposure such that children with later bedtimes, shorter sleep durations and poorer sleep quality tend to have longer screen exposure times.
  • For children who slept for 9.88 hours or less per night, there was a significant association between screen time and behaviour problems (in particular externalising problems).
  • Sleep duration moderated the effect of screen time on behaviour problems in preschool children such that higher exposure to screens was associated with increased behaviour problems for children who had low sleep duration.

Implications

  • The combination of increased screen exposure and decreased sleep duration may be particularly adverse for child mental health.
  • Although there is evidence and growing knowledge on the association between screen time and mental health, the magnitude of the association varies from study to study. This study shows that sleep time has a role to play in that association. Asking parents about child sleep duration in combination with screen time may help to understand problematic externalising behaviours in pre-school children.

 

Read the abstract

Positive psychology interventions and wellbeing of young children

Effects of Positive Psychology Interventions on the Well-Being of Young Children: A Systematic Literature Review

Authors: Benoit, V., and Gabola, P.

Journal: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Highlights

  • Positive psychology interventions are often based on positive emotions (happiness, optimism), engagement in activities, secure relationships, and ability to achieve one’s goals.
  • This is the first systematic reviews on the effectiveness on positive psychology in children under 6 years old.
  • This review demonstrates the importance of positive psychology interventions with young children to promote positive aspects of development, such as gratitude, positive emotions, life satisfaction, accomplishment, positive relationship, or self-esteem.

Key findings

  • Only three studies met the inclusion criteria for quantitative evidence synthesis, all of which were based in educational settings, highlighting the need for more research in this field.
  • Despite this, there is some early signs that positive psychology interventions could increase positive emotions, improve engagement in school, positive approaches to learning and one study showed significant increases in self-reported satisfaction.
  • Longer interventions appear to be more effective and aligns with research on positive psychology interventions for other age groups.
  • Factors that supported positive outcomes include adequate training for educators and integration of positive psychology into the curriculum.

Implications

  • In educational settings, the implementation of positive psychology interventions needs to be combined with training for educators to have a positive effect on children.
  • Creative methods like drawing, role-playing, or child-to-adult dictation should be explored as means to implement positive psychology in young children and promote wellbeing.

 

Read the full text

Up Next: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children: Additional resources, research, and reports

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