Highlights in child mental health research: September 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.

How does psychiatric diagnosis affect young people’s self-concept and social identity? A systematic review and synthesis of the qualitative literature (O’Connor, C.; Kadianaki, I.; Maunder, K.; McNicholas, F.)

Receiving a psychiatric diagnosis in childhood or adolescence can have numerous social, emotional and practical repercussions. Among the most important of these are the implications for a young person’s self-concept and social identity. To ensure diagnoses are communicated and managed in a way that optimally benefits mental health trajectories, understanding young people’s first-hand experience of living with a diagnosis is paramount. This systematic review collates, evaluates and synthesises the qualitative research that has explored how psychiatric diagnosis interacts with young people’s self-concept and social identity.

A search of 10 electronic databases identified 3892 citations, 38 of which met inclusion criteria. The 38 studies were generally evaluated as moderate-to-high quality research.

Social Science & Medicine

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


A systematic review of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of school-based identification of children and young people at risk of, or currently experiencing mental health difficulties (Anderson, J.K.; Ford, T.; Soneson, E.; Coon, J.T.; Humphrey, A.; Rogers, M.; Moore, D.; Jones, P.B.; Clarke, E.; Howarth, E.)

Background: Although school-based programmes for the identification of children and young people (CYP) with mental health difficulties (MHD) have the potential to improve short- and long-term outcomes across a range of mental disorders, the evidence-base on the effectiveness of these programmes is underdeveloped. In this systematic review, we sought to identify and synthesise evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of school-based methods to identify students experiencing MHD, as measured by accurate identification, referral rates, and service uptake.

Conclusions: Well-designed pragmatic trials that include the evaluation of cost-effectiveness and detailed process evaluations are necessary to establish the accuracy of different identification models, as well as their effectiveness in connecting students to appropriate support in real-world settings.

Psychological Medicine

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Effect of physical exercises on attention, motor skill and physical fitness in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A systematic review (Jeyanthi, S.; Arumugam, N.; Parasher, R.K.)

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are educated in classrooms along with typically developing children. Those with ADHD, however, find it difficult to participate in routine educational and recreational activities as they encounter problems associated with behaviour, attention, motor skills and physical endurance. Traditionally, the management of children with ADHD has focussed primarily on problems with cognition and has been heavily dependent on pharmaceutical interventions and, to a lesser extent, on non-pharmaceutical measures. More recently, experts have increasingly advocated the use of exercises in alleviating symptoms associated with ADHD.

The primary objective of this review was to summarize research that examined the role of exercises on deficits related to attention, motor skills and fitness in children with ADHD. A search of the available literature was conducted using a combination of relevant key words in the following databases: PubMed, MEDLINE, Google Scholar, Embase and Cochrane review.

ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders

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


How Do Children Make Sense of their Parent’s Mental Health Difficulties: A Meta-Synthesis. (Simpson-Adkins, G.J.; Daiches, A.)

Children of parents who experience mental health difficulties (COPE-MHD) consistently demonstrate numerous negative outcomes, including risks of intergenerational continuity of mental health difficulties (MHD). Numerous studies have analysed the experiences and understanding of parents’ MHD from the perspective of COPE-MHD. This meta-synthesis aims to capture, across available literature, the way in which COPE-MHD make sense of their parent’s MHD and how this perception impacts their life.

For inclusion in the review, research articles were required to be published in peer-reviewed journals, apply qualitative methods of data collection and analysis and report on the direct accounts of COPE-MHD regarding their understanding or experience of their parents’ MHD. Five electronic databases were used; Academic Search Complete, CINAHL, MEDLINE, PsycINFO and Child Development and Adolescent Studies. Fourteen studies were included. Analysis produced three overarching themes.

Journal of Child & Family Studies

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Family physicians perceived role in perinatal mental health: an integrative review (Noonan, M.; Doody, O.; Jomeen, J.; O’Regan, A.; Galvin, R.)

Background: Responding to and caring for women who experience mental health problems during the perinatal period, from pregnancy up to one year after birth, is complex and requires a multidisciplinary response. Family physicians are ideally placed to provide an effective response as it is recognised that they are responsible for organising care and supports for women and their families. This paper reports an integrative review undertaken to examine family physicians’ perceived role in perinatal mental health care and concludes with recommendations for health policy, research and practice.

Conclusion: Family physicians require timely access to local integrated care pathways that provide a wide range of services that are culturally sensitive, perinatal mental health specific, and that support psychological well-being and infant/family mental health. Family physicians are open to incorporating a brief validated screening tool into primary practice supported by succinct guidelines. Research that examines training needs in relation to perinatal mental health could be used to inform family physician training programmes and curriculum development around perinatal mental health.

BMC Family Practice, Vol 19, Iss 1, Pp 1-22 (2018)

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A Meta-Analysis of Maternal Prenatal Depression and Anxiety on Child Socioemotional Development (Madigan, S.; Racine, N.; Cooke, J.E.; Oatley, H.; Fearon, R.M. Pasco; Schumacher, L.; Akbari, E.; Tarabulsy, G.M.)

Objective: Observed associations between maternal prenatal stress and children’s socioemotional development have varied widely in the literature. The objective of the current study was to provide a synthesis of studies examining maternal prenatal anxiety and depression and the socioemotional development of their children.

Conclusion: Findings suggest that maternal prenatal stress is associated with offspring socioemotional development, with the effect size for prenatal depression being more robust than for anxiety. Mitigating stress and mental health difficulties in mothers during pregnancy may be an effective strategy for reducing offspring behavioral difficulties, especially in groups with social disadvantage and greater severity of mental health difficulties.

Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Read the abstract here. A ScienceDirect account is required to access the full text.


Technology delivered interventions for depression and anxiety in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis (Grist, R.; Croker, A.; Denne, M.; Stallard, P.)

Depression and anxiety are common during adolescence. Whilst effective interventions are available, treatment services are limited resulting in many adolescents being unable to access effective help. Delivering mental health interventions via technology, such as computers or the internet, offers one potential way to increase access to psychological treatment. The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to update previous work and investigate the current evidence for the effect of technology delivered interventions for children and adolescents (aged up to 18 years) with depression and anxiety.

Type of control condition, problem severity, therapeutic support, parental support, and continuation of other ongoing treatment significantly influenced effect sizes. Our findings suggest there is a benefit in using CBT based technology delivered interventions where access to traditional psychotherapies is limited or delayed.

Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

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Technology in Parenting Programs: A Systematic Review of Existing Interventions (Corralejo, S.M.; Domenech Rodríguez, M.M.)

Behavioral parent training (BPT) is an evidence-based intervention that reduces child problem behavior. Unfortunately, there are notable disparities in access to and use of evidence-based parenting interventions, including BPT. One way to address the service gap is through technology-based parenting interventions. The purpose of this systematic review is to identify the populations targeted in technology-based parenting interventions, the effectiveness of these interventions, and areas and populations where future research is warranted.

A search of three databases yielded 31 articles that met inclusion criteria.

Technology-based parenting interventions have successfully improved parenting variables such as parent knowledge, behavior, and self-efficacy. Yet the vast majority of these interventions are validated with White American families and lack adaptations that may make them more accessible to underserved populations. As the burgeoning area of technology-based interventions continues to grow, researchers should consider underserved populations and appropriate cultural adaptations that could reduce mental health disparities and increase the scope of evidence-based interventions.

Journal of Child & Family Studies

Read the abstract here. A ResearchGate account is required to access the full text.


Parents’ use of mobile computing devices, caregiving and the social and emotional development of children: a systematic review of the evidence (Australia) (Beamish, N; Fisher, J; Rowe, H)

Objectives: Mobile device use is a rapidly growing, socially acceptable interactional habit. The impact of mobile device use on social interactions, including between parents and young children, is uncertain. The aim was to describe, synthesise and evaluate the evidence about parents’ mobile device use, caregiving and children’s social and emotional development.

Conclusions: An emerging body of research suggests mobile devices are associated with altered attention and responsivity to children by their caregivers and may change caregiver/child interactions. The evidence precludes questions about causality or discussion of impacts on child development. Knowledge gaps have been identified and they require future targeted research.

Australasian Psychiatry: Bulletin of Royal Australian And New Zealand College of Psychiatrists

Read the abstract here. A SAGE account is required to access the full text.


Meta-meta-analysis on the effectiveness of parent-based interventions for the treatment of child externalizing behavior problems (Mingebach, T.; Kamp-Becker, I.; Christiansen, H.; Weber, L.)

Objective: The aim of this study is to perform the first meta-meta-analysis on the effectiveness of parent-based interventions for children with externalizing behavior problems. Even though parent-based interventions are considered as effective treatments, the effects reported in meta-analyses are heterogeneous and the implementation in clinical practice is suboptimal. Recapitulative valid effect predictions are required to close the still existing gap between research findings and clinical practice. The meta-meta-analytic results on changes in child behavior shall result in a clear signal for clinical practice.

Conclusion: Parent-based interventions are shown to be effective in improving behavior in children with externalizing behavior problems, as assessed using parent reports and observational measures. The present results should encourage health care providers to apply evidence-based parent-based interventions.


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

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