Highlights in child mental health research: October 2018

Prepared by AIFS, 2018

This research summary provides a selection of recently released systematic reviews and meta-analyses related to infant and child mental health and relevant to the work of the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health. Abstracts and links to full-text articles, where available, are provided.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder late birthdate effect common in both high and low prescribing international jurisdictions: systematic review (Whitely, M.; Raven, M.; Timimi, S.; Jureidini, J.; Phillimore, J.; Leo, J.; Moncrieff, J.; Landman, P.)

Multiple studies have found that the youngest children in a classroom are at elevated risk of being diagnosed with, or medicated for, ADHD. This systematic review was conducted to investigate whether this late birthdate effect is the norm and whether the strength of effect is related to the absolute risk of being diagnosed/medicated.

Conclusions: It is the norm internationally for the youngest children in a classroom to be at increased risk of being medicated for ADHD, even in jurisdictions with relatively low prescribing rates. A lack of a strong effect in Denmark may be accounted for by the common practice of academic ‘redshirting’, where children judged by parents as immature have a delayed school start. Redshirting may prevent and/or disguise late birthdate effects and further research is warranted. The evidence of strong late birthdate effects in jurisdictions with comparatively low diagnosis/medication rates challenges the notion that low rates indicate sound diagnostic practices.

Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines

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Screen media use and ADHD-related behaviors: Four decades of research (Beyens, I.; Valkenburg, P.M.; Piotrowski, J.T.)

The diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children and adolescents has increased considerably over the past decades. Scholars and health professionals alike have expressed concern about the role of screen media in the rise in ADHD diagnosis. However, the extent to which screen media use and ADHD are linked remains a point of debate.

To understand the current state of the field and, ultimately, move the field forward, we provide a systematic review of the literature on the relationship between children and adolescents’ screen media use and ADHD related behaviors (i.e., attention problems, hyperactivity, and impulsivity).

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: a systematic review (Tillmann, S.; Tobin, D.; Avison, W.; Gilliland, J.)

Background: It is commonly believed that nature has positive impacts on children’s health, including physical, mental and social dimensions. This review focuses on how accessibility to, exposure to and engagement with nature affects the mental health of children and teenagers.

Conclusions: Findings support the contention that nature positively influences mental health; however, in most cases, additional research with more rigorous study designs and objective measures of both nature and mental health outcomes are needed to confirm statistically significant relationships. Existing evidence is limited by the cross-sectional nature of most papers.

Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

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The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (Dunning, D.L.; Griffiths, K.; Kuyken, W.; Crane, C.; Foulkes, L.; Parker, J.; Dalgleish, T.)

Mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) are an increasingly popular way of attempting to improve the behavioural, cognitive and mental health outcomes of children and adolescents, though there is a suggestion that enthusiasm has moved ahead of the evidence base. Most evaluations of MBIs are either uncontrolled or non-randomised trials. This meta-analysis aims to establish the efficacy of MBIs for children and adolescents in studies that have adopted a randomised, controlled trial (RCT) design.

Conclusions: This meta-analysis reinforces the efficacy of using MBIs for improving the mental health and wellbeing of youth as assessed using the gold standard RCT methodology. Future RCT evaluations should incorporate scaled-up definitive trial designs to further evaluate the robustness of MBIs in youth, with an embedded focus on mechanisms of action.

Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines

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Strategies to Engage Underrepresented Parents in Child Intervention Services: A Review of Effectiveness and Co-occurring Use (Pellecchia, M.; Nuske, H.J.; Straiton, D.; McGhee Hassrick, E.; Gulsrud, A.; Iadarola, S.; Vejnoska, S.F.; Bullen, B.; Haine-Schlagel, R.; Kasari, C.; Mandell, D.S.; Smith, T.; Stahmer, A.C.)

The purpose of this review was to estimate the impact of parent engagement strategies tested with underrepresented families of young children with social, emotional, or behavioral disorders, and describe the combinations in which these strategies are commonly used together. We conducted a systematic review using the PracticeWise Engagement Coding System to identify which strategies had the strongest empirical support for engaging underrepresented (i.e., minority race or ethnicity, or low income) families receiving psychosocial services for their children.

Our findings suggest that researchers and practitioners require guidance in selecting engagement strategies to reduce attrition of underrepresented families in treatment. Although we identified promising strategies for improving parent engagement in treatment for underrepresented children with social, emotional, or behavioral disorders, the frequent combining of engagement strategies in research means that there is little data on the independent effects of interventions to increase parent engagement for this population.

Journal of Child & Family Studies

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Attachment, Development, and Mental Health in Abused and Neglected Preschool Children in Foster Care: A Meta-Analysis (Vasileva, M.; Petermann, F.)

A proper preparation for foster parents to care for abused and neglected children includes effective training and initial diagnostics in order to plan individual treatment. Hence, a basic knowledge about the main psychosocial and developmental problems associated with abuse and neglect and their prevalence in foster children is needed. For this purpose, a systematic literature review and a series of meta-analyses were conducted.

These findings outline the necessity of an initial trauma-oriented diagnostics and trainings for foster parents that address foster children’s development, mental health, and disorganized attachment.

Trauma, Violence & Abuse
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A systematic review of psychological treatments for clinical anxiety during the perinatal period (Loughnan, S.A.; Wallace, M.; Joubert, A.E.; Haskelberg, H.; Andrews, G.; Newby, J.M.)

Maternal anxiety is common during the perinatal period, and despite the negative outcomes of anxiety on the mother and infant, its treatment has received limited attention. This paper describes the first review of psychological interventions for clinical anxiety during the perinatal period. A systematic search was carried out of six electronic databases. Five studies which evaluated psychological interventions for clinical anxiety in perinatal women were identified. Of the five studies included, four were open trials and one was a randomised controlled trial. Three studies evaluated group-based interventions; one study evaluated an online-delivered intervention; and one study a combined pharmacologic-psychological intervention.

Archives of Women’s Mental Health

Read the abstract hereA Springer account is required to access the full text.


Psychosocial outcomes in cancer-bereaved children and adolescents: A systematic review (Hoffmann, R.; Kaiser, J.; Kersting, A.)

Objective: Due to the unique importance of parental and sibling relationships and concurrently existing developmental challenges, the loss of a parent or sibling due to cancer is a highly stressful event for children and adolescents. This is the first systematic review that integrates findings on psychosocial outcomes after parental or sibling cancer bereavement.

Methods: A systematic search of Web of Science, PubMed, PsycINFO, and PubPsych was conducted, last in December 2017. Quantitative studies on psychosocial outcomes of children and adolescents who lost a parent or sibling due to cancer were included.

Conclusions: Results indicate a high level of adjustment in cancer-bereaved children and adolescents. A modifiable risk factor for adverse psychosocial consequences is poor communication. Prospective designs, representative samples, and validated instruments, e.g., for prolonged grief, are suggested for future research.


Read the abstract hereA Wiley Online account is required to access the full text.


A more extensive list of recently released research related to child mental health can be found here.

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