Research News in Youth Mental Health - February 2024

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Research News in Youth Mental Health - February 2024

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Office of Children's Mental Health (OCMH) Senior Research Analyst, Amy Marsman, spotlights recent articles, resources, and research findings impacting youth mental health.

DHS Recommends Blood Lead Tests for All Children

Childhood lead poisoning remains a serious public health threat and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is now recommending universal blood lead testing for children living in Wisconsin. Universal testing means all children should receive a blood lead test at ages 1 and 2 as well as any child between ages 3 and 5 who has not had a previous test. Children under 6 residing in the city of Milwaukee require additional testing per local health department guidelines.

A new study says the global toll of lead exposure is even worse than we thought. Study authors provide the first monetary estimates of the total global cost of these lead-attributable deaths, along with the magnitude and cost of IQ loss in children under 5 years old.


Data show increases in self-harm coincide with returning to school in January and September

As students begin the spring semester, the Department of Health Services (DHS) encourages parents and caregivers to be aware of the trends in self-harm, which tend to peak in January  and September. Wisconsin Emergency Department data show that young people experience large increases in self-harm injuries at specific times of the year, including when school resumes after the winter holidays.

Self-harm may be done to express or lessen emotional pain. While someone who self-harms may not have the intention of suicide, they may be at greater risk of a suicide attempt or dying by suicide if they do not receive help.


New CDC school mental health guide aims to help school leaders

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new action guide for school and district leaders to support youth mental health and help build on what schools are already doing. Recent data shows adolescent mental health has worsened for over a decade, and key indicators of poor mental health have reached alarming levels. The guide describes six education-based strategies that are proven to promote and support mental health and well-being.

A new grant opportunity is open to education organizations in Wisconsin. DHS is seeking applicants implementing Sources of Strength (SOS), a school-based suicide prevention program, with the aim to increase implementation and support sustainability of SOS programming in Wisconsin schools. SOS is designed to increase wellbeing, help-seeking, resiliency, healthy coping, and belonging. The program is a supported strategy by the CDC’s Comprehensive Suicide Prevention program as it promotes connectedness and positive peer norms.


Nine out of ten people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date

The vast majority of people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date, as well-established in the suicidology literature. A 2022 literature review summarized 90 studies that have followed over time people who made suicide attempts resulting in medical care. Approximately 70% had no further attempts, approximately 23% reattempted non-fatally, and 7% of attempters eventually died by suicide.

This long-term survival rate is consistent with the observation that suicidal crises are often short-lived, even if there may be underlying, more chronic risk factors present that give rise to these crises. Because 30% continue to be suicidal, there is growing recognition that removing access to lethal firearms, which can be deadly in a moment of impulse, is a key suicide prevention strategy.


Guns and Comprehensive Suicide Prevention – Gun Shop Project

In Everytown for Gun Safety’s release of the Gun Law State Rankings, Wisconsin is listed as “missing key laws.” Neighboring states Minnesota and Michigan moved up in the rankings, and both were highlighted as states with greatest increase in their rankings. Since restricting access to lethal firearms is an important suicide prevention strategy, the report identified opportunities for Wisconsin to strengthen the gun safety laws.

Meanwhile efforts in Wisconsin to engage gun shop owners in suicide prevention work is growing. The Gun Shop Project features a map of Wisconsin Firearm Safe Storage Facilities, where gun owners can safely store their firearms.

DHS announced funding to implement the Gun Shop Project, an educational campaign for firearm retailers and range owners on ways they can help prevent suicide in rural communities. The objectives are to partner with firearm retailers and firing ranges to share guidelines on how to avoid selling or renting a firearm to a suicidal customer and encourage firearm retailers and firing ranges to display and distribute printed suicide prevention materials tailored to their customers. Funded agencies may also identify firearm retailers and firearm ranges interested in obtaining and installing a gun safe in their facility to provide free firearm storage access for individuals within their communities.


Race for Results 2024 Report – WI next to last for black children’s well-being

Data from the Race for Results 2024 Report indicate the United States is failing to address the needs of young people — especially young people of color. The report tracks indicators across four domains: Early Childhood, Education and Early Work, Family Resources, and Neighborhood Context. Wisconsin and Michigan had the lowest rankings in the nation for Black child well-being. Overall national rankings for children in Wisconsin follow:

  • Asian 38th (out of 45 states ranked)
  • Black 45th (out of 46 states ranked)
  • Hispanic 18th (out of 50 states ranked)
  • Multiracial 21st (out of 50 states ranked)
  • Native 13th (out of 31 states ranked)
  • White 7th (out of 50 states ranked)


American Indian and Alaska Native Children Live in Diverse Family Structures

New analysis of five-year data from the American Community Survey (2017-2021) finds that, among children under age 18, American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) children live in a diverse range of family structures. Among AIAN children:

  • 39% live with married parents
  • 28% live in single mother families
  • 12% reside with unmarried cohabiting parents
  • 12% do not live with either parent (many of these children live with grandparents)
  • 9% live in single father families

Of the family structures examined, AIAN children have more sizeable representation in most, relative to all U.S. children. For example, although only a minority of AIAN children live with single fathers, the proportion is nearly twice that seen among all U.S. children. The diversity of AIAN family structures illustrates the need to ensure that policies and programs that aim to serve AIAN children are accessible across family types.

Read article.


Supporting Fathers, Fatherhood, and Parent Relationships

Given the importance of fathers for child development and family well-being, fathers should be a major target audience for programming and services, according to family relationship experts at UW-Extension. But fathers are systematically underserved in these areas, so UW-Extension decided to intentionally assess what fathers in Wisconsin need and where the gaps are in current services before creating new programming.

The needs assessment reported, among other things, there’s a need for peer support and classes targeting fathers. In response to the Fatherhood Needs Assessment, classes on ways to boost a child’s social emotional skills are being offered. Peer groups for fathers who are currently without primary custody of their children are addressing child support, custody, and staying in touch with children. Further details on Father Peer Groups and Focus on Fathers can be found at the Division of Extension’s Parenting and Family Relationships page.

Additionally, a recruitment for dads to join future paid focus groups is underway with the Kerr Parent Lab (


Seclusion and Restraint

For more than a decade, school nurses, pediatricians, lawmakers, and others have warned that restraint and seclusion can cause long-lasting trauma and escalate negative behaviors. Some children subjected to the practice may start to act out violently at home, harm themselves, or fall into severe depression. In the worst cases, children have reportedly died or suffered serious injury. Yet, about 70% of U.S. school districts report zero incidents of seclusion or restraint, despite a federal law requiring districts to report all cases of seclusion or restraint to the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

The Department of Education says it is meeting with schools that underreport cases of restraint and seclusion, tactics used disproportionately on students with disabilities and children of color. Meanwhile, ED released a guide on positive approaches to supporting students with disabilities, which offers evidence-based strategies that early childhood programs, schools, and districts can use in place of exclusionary discipline or other harmful practices such as restraint or seclusion.


Perceived Life Expectancy and Life Purpose in LGBTQ+ Young People

A third (34%) of LGBTQ+ young people believe their chances of living to age 35 were low. The majority of LGBTQ+ young people (58%) believe there’s a high chance (i.e., more likely than not) of living to age 35 according to a new research brief from The Trevor Project.

It is well documented that LGBTQ+ young people report higher rates of mental health concerns in comparison to their peers (McDonald, 2018). These concerns are often tied to experiences of minority stress, or negative events associated with a marginalized identity (e.g., discrimination), which serve as risk factors for poor mental health (Meyer, 2003; Rich et al., 2020). This brief explores the relationship between LGBTQ+ young people’s perceived life expectancy and life purpose with their mental health.


Studies have found that mentoring during childhood can strengthen mental health

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, highlighting the critical role that mentors play in the lives of youth, spotlighted data and trends showing the extent to which young people have access to mentors. The data reveal that decades of mentoring progress may be eroding at a time when youth mental health needs are soaring. Rela­tion­ships play a pow­er­ful role in youth devel­op­ment and suc­cess, and stud­ies have found that men­tor­ing dur­ing child­hood can strength­en men­tal health.