Study finds quadruple range in rates of mental health problems in American children based on relationship and social risks


Newswise — A large multi-year study based on 2016Data from 2019 revealed that children facing relational and social risks are more likely to have mental, emotional or behavioral health problems, but the negative impact of these problems on resilience, self-regulation and A child’s school engagement may be offset by protective factors such as a strong bond between the caregiver and the resilience of the family.

The study, led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, also found that children who only faced relationship risks, such as substance abuse among family members, were more likely to have mental, emotional or behavioral problems than those who faced only social risks, such as economic hardship.

The findings are released as the United States and other countries face a crisis in children’s mental health exacerbated by the pandemic. The study appears online in the January 2022 issue of North American Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics.

The study found that, overall, 21.8 percent of American children ages 3 to 17 have one or more of the common mental, emotional, and behavioral health issues assessed. The prevalence of mental health problems in American children ranged from approximately 15 to 60 percent, increasing with the type (social, relational, or both) and number of these risks to which the children had been exposed.

The analysis, based on responses to a survey of almost 132,000 children aged 3 to 17, examined the complex interplay between common mental health problems in children, social and relational health risks and protective factors.

“If we treat children with mental, emotional and behavioral problems without individually and collectively addressing social and relational health risks, or even assessing them, which is often the case, we are missing some of the key contributing factors. origin of our children’s mental and emotional suffering,” says study leader Christina Bethell, PhD, MPH, MBA, professor in the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health and director of the The Bloomberg School Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative.

Research suggests that social and relational health risks contribute to mental, emotional and behavioral health problems in children. Much previous research has focused on individual social and relational health risks. The new study looked at both the individual and combined effects of these factors on American children.

For their analysis, Bethell and her colleagues collected data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Office of Maternal and Child Health in conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of the Census. . The survey, administered to thousands of parents and guardians each year, provides data on multiple intersecting aspects of children’s lives, including physical and mental health, access to quality health care and family , neighborhood, school and social context of the child.

The study found that more than two-thirds of children with mental health problems had at least one of the eight evidence-based social or relationship risk factors examined in the review, compared with around half of children without mental health problems. Mental Health.

Factors examined included economic hardship, food insecurity, unsafe neighborhood, racial discrimination, Multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (CEAs) such as substance abuse or domestic violence, poor caregiver mental health, and low levels adaptation of caregivers or a strong aggravation with their child.

Relational risks – as opposed to social health risks – were both more common in children with mental health problems and had a stronger association with these conditions. Almost a third of children with mental health problems were exposed to both types of risk.

One of the main objectives of the study was to identify opportunities to promote positive outcomes in children with mental, emotional and behavioral disorders who also experience social and relational health risks, with an emphasis on their engagement in school and on building their own resilience, assessed as the ability to regulate one’s emotions and behavior in the face of challenges. The researchers found that a child’s odds of being engaged in school were 77% lower if they lacked self-regulation. Offering hope, the odds that a child with mental health issues would demonstrate good self-regulation – a key component of resilience – were 5.73 times higher when children also experienced parent-child bonding stronger. These odds were more than 2.25 times higher when their family said they had hope and could identify strengths to draw on during difficult times. The results were consistent across all levels of social and relational health risks.

Bethell notes that parent-child bonding and family resilience are learned behaviors that can be strengthened through family support and skill building. Bethell notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends promoting these factors during routine child checkups, in schools, in mental health treatment, and in the community at large.

“There is a mental, emotional and behavioral health crisis for children in our country, but most children with these conditions have risk factors that we can identify and do something about,” says the co-author of the study Tamar Mendelson, PhD, MA, a Bloomberg Professor of American Health in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health. “Ultimately, we must address the structural and systemic issues that threaten the well-being of young people; at the same time, there is much we can do to reduce risk factors for families.

“Social and Relational Health Risks and Mental Health Problems Common in American Children: The Mitigating Role of Family Resilience and Connection in Promoting Positive, School-Related Socio-Emotional Outcomes” was written by Christina D Bethell, Andrew S. Garner, Narangerel Gombojav, Courtney Blackwell, Laurence Heller and Tamar Mendelson.

This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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