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:

The findings from this study report the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on self-reported mothers’ mental health and their child’s mental health.  Rates of self-quarantine, job or income loss and family stress (e.g., difficulty managing children’s at-home learning) were high in mothers experiencing adversity. Family resilience e.g., families finding good ways of coping, were associated with better mental health. Self-quarantine, financial hardship, and family stress were associated with poorer mental health. Findings from this study highlight the disproportionate effects of mandated lockdowns on mothers and families already experiencing adversity.

This rapid systematic review investigated the association between loneliness/perceived isolation and mental heath in children and young people with pre-existing mental health problems. It found that loneliness is associated with depression and anxiety in children and young people with pre-existing mental health conditions. Maintaining social contact, even through online forums, could be an important way to mitigate loneliness.

This paper investigates whether diet, including fruit and vegetable intake, is associated with mental wellbeing using data collected from children and young people in Years 5-13 across 50 schools in Norfork, UK. It found that the type of breakfast and lunch consumed, by both primary and secondary students, was significantly associated with well- being. Not eating breakfast or lunch, or only consuming energy drinks, resulted in lower well-being scores. These findings suggest that strategies to optimise the mental well- being of children should include promotion of good nutrition.

This study explored the associations between child maltreatment and functional resilience at school commencement and explores gender differences. Children who were older at school commencement, had no emotional condition, and were read to at home, had greater resilience. Boys’ functioning at school commencement, and resilience in the face of child maltreatment, was considerably worse than girls’. This is the first study that shows that reading to children may mitigate the detrimental effects of maltreatment. Boys who have experienced maltreatment may require more support.

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

Recently released report on COVID-19:

  • The impact of COVID-19 on child mental health and service barriers: The perspective of parents
    This paper provides detailed data on the mental health of those aged 18 years and under, as reported by an adult in their household. Findings suggest that there was no difference in the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of boys compared with girls. However, more parents of older children reported negative effects on their child’s mental health than parents of younger children. For instance, 40% of parents of children aged 2-4 years reported that their child experienced a negative impact on their mental health due to COVID-19 compared with 71% of parents of young people aged 15-18 years.

The mental health of mothers and children experiencing adversity

Clinical, financial and social impacts of COVID-19 and their associations with mental health for mothers and children experiencing adversity in Australia

Authors: Bryson, H., Mensah F., Price, A., Gold, L., Mudiyanselage, S.B., Kenny,B., Dakin,P., Bruce,T., Noble, K., Kemp, L., Goldfeld, S.

Journal: PLoS ONE

Highlights

  • The financial and social impacts of Australia’s public health restrictions have substantially affected families experiencing adversity, and their mental health.
  • The findings report the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on mothers’ self-reported mental health and their child’s mental health

Findings

  • Mothers experiencing adversity were identified from the [email protected] trial and were categorised as such if they had risk factors associated with greater adversity (such as young pregnancy, poorer health, long-term illness, disability, low education)
  • Rates of self-quarantine, job or income loss and family stress (e.g., difficulty managing children’s at-home learning) were high in mothers experiencing adversity
  • Family resilience e.g., family finding good ways of coping, were associated with better mental health for mothers and children.
  • Self-quarantine, financial hardship, and family stress were associated with poorer mental health for mothers and children.

Implications

  • Findings from this study highlight the disproportionate effects of mandated lockdowns on mothers and families already experiencing adversity.
  • Family resilience and finding ways of coping can help facilitate better mental health, especially in children. This is consistent with other nationwide surveys such as National Child Health Poll and the COVID-19 Pandemic Adjustment Survey.

 

Read the free full text here

Loneliness and child mental health

Loneliness and mental health in children and adolescents with pre-existing mental health problems: A rapid systematic review

Authors: Hards, E., Loades, Maria Elizabeth, Higson-Sweeney, N., Shafran, R., Serafimova, T., Brigden, A., Reynolds, S., Crawley, E., Chatburn, E., Linney, C., McManus, M., Borwick, C.,

Journal: The British Journal of Clinical Psychology

Highlights

  • This rapid systematic review investigated the association between loneliness/perceived isolation and mental heath in children and young people with pre-existing mental health problems.
  • This review helps to understand potential implications of enforced social isolation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic during which many young people have reported increased levels of loneliness.

Key findings

  • 15 studies identified in the review included 1,536 children and young people aged between 6 and 23 years with social phobia, anxiety and/or depression, and neurodevelopmental disorders.
  • The review found that loneliness is associated with depression and anxiety in children and young people with pre-existing mental health conditions. The relationship between loneliness and mental health conditions could be bidirectional (each causing the other).
  • The review found preliminary evidence that psychological treatments can help to reduce feelings of loneliness in this population.

Implications

  • Enforced social isolation, such as restrictions due to the COVID-19 lockdown, may be causing higher levels of loneliness in children and young people.
  • Loneliness is a possible risk factor for children and young people with mental health problems and with neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder. Practitioners should be aware of this relationship.
  • Maintaining social contact, even through online forums, could be an important way to mitigate loneliness.
  • Interventions to address loneliness should be further developed and tested to help children and young people with pre-existing mental health problems who are lonely by preventing exacerbation of their mental health difficulties, in particular anxiety and depression.

 

Read the free full-text

The effect of diet and meal choices on children’s and young people’s mental wellbeing

Cross-sectional associations of schoolchildren’s fruit and vegetable consumption, and meal choices, with their mental well-being: a cross-sectional study

Authors: Hayhoe, R., Rechel, B., Clark, A.B., Gummerson, C., Smith, S. J. L., Welch, A. A.

Journal: BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health

Highlights

  • This paper draws on data from 7570 secondary school and 1253 primary school children in the Norfolk Children and Young People Health and Well-being Survey.
  • Although the relationship between good nutrition and childhood growth and development has been established, there has been little research investigating nutrition in relation to mental well-being in school-aged children and young people.
  • The paper investigates whether diet, including fruit and vegetable intake, is associated with mental well-being using data collected from children in years 5-13 across 50 schools in Norfork, UK.

Key findings

  • This study found that 13% of children had nothing to eat or drink before starting class and 10% had nothing to eat before starting afternoon classes.
  • Higher fruit and vegetable consumption was significantly associated with better mental well-being in secondary school children.
  • The type of breakfast and lunch consumed, by both primary and secondary pupils, was significantly associated with well- being. Not eating breakfast or lunch, or only consuming energy drinks resulted in lower well-being scores.
  • The difference in mental well-being between children who consumed the most fruits and vegetables compared with the those who consumed the fewest was of a similar scale to those children experiencing daily, or almost daily, arguing or violence at home.
  • This study takes into account other factors that could affect mental well-being such as demographic, environmental influences including adverse experiences. However, it does not fully remove the possibility that there are other factors at play to explain the associations found.

Implications

  • These findings suggest that strategies to optimise the mental well- being of children should include promotion of good nutrition.
  • Although this study specifically focused on investigating links between nutritional factors and mental well-being in young people, other findings align with previous evidence showing behavioural and demographic factors are important.
  • The biological and psychological mechanisms of wellbeing are complex and not well understood. An unhealthy diet has shown to cause increased inflammation exacerbating severity of depressive symptoms. This may help to explain the link between nutrition and wellbeing.

 

Read the free full-text

Child maltreatment and functional resilience

Educational strengths and functional resilience at the start of primary school following child maltreatment

Authors: Armfield, J.M., Ey, L., Zufferey, C., Gnanamanickam, E.S., Segal, L.

Journal: Child Abuse & Neglect

Highlights

  • Multiple Strength Indicator (MSI) is a measure used by the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) that focusses specifically on a range of functional skills, competencies and dispositions that children might have developed by the time they start school and has been used in this study to measure ‘functional resilience’.
  • This study explored the associations between child maltreatment and functional resilience at school commencement and gender differences in those associations.

Key findings

  • Child maltreatment can result in fewer strengths (less resilience) at school commencement.
  • Children who were older at school commencement, had no emotional condition, and were read to at home had greater resilience.
  • Boys’ functioning at school commencement and resilience in the face of child maltreatment were considerably worse than girls’.

Implications

  • While reading at home has been related to positive school readiness, developmental and scholastic outcomes, this is the first study that shows that reading to children may mitigate the detrimental effects of maltreatment.
  • Boys who have experienced maltreatment may require more support. They are likely to be labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’ and may be struggling in the face of adversity.

 

Read the Abstract

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

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