Research News in Youth Mental Health

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Research News in Youth Mental Health

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OCMH Senior Research Analyst, Amy Marsman spotlights recent articles, resources and research findings impacting youth mental health.

Massive increase in teen and young adult women taking antidepressants

Reporting on a new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests there has been a massive increase in teenage and young adult women using antidepressants in recent years. The prevalence of depression and anxiety among people of that age group was already rising before March 2020, but researchers found this jump was particularly stark following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rate of antidepressant dispensing increased by 130% from March 2020 through the end of 2022. Although the increased rates might seem concerning for young females, authors are also concerned that depression among young males is going undiagnosed and untreated.


Integrated care model leads to sharp decrease in depression, anxiety symptoms in children’s pilot

Under a model established in 2020 and piloted in San Diego, primary care providers screen children and adolescents for potential mental health issues during regular visits, such as the child’s annual wellness check. Children and teens identified as struggling with depression or anxiety or in the beginning stages of a mental health concern can speak to a mental health professional in the same office often on the same day. (Typically it is left up to families to navigate through a list of unfamiliar mental health resources to arrange care on their own, often with wait times exceeding six months.) The pilot showed a 62% decrease in depression symptoms and a 44% reduction in anxiety symptoms among youth. The hospital released the results of the program, and issued a case study article in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Related, in an article in Contemporary Pediatrics with screening schedules and a table of evidence-based interventions, medical doctors urge pediatricians to incorporate mental health as part of a child’s check-up. Because of their longitudinal relationships with children and families, pediatricians have the opportunity to ask and learn about the mental and emotional health of a child from infancy through childhood and adolescence. The pediatrician can partner with the child and family for promotion, prevention, early identification, and intervention. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has developed the Mental Health Competencies for Pediatric Practice.


Most teens think the benefits of smartphones outweigh the harms for people their age.

Pew Research surveyed teens and parents on a range of screen time-related topics. 70% of teens say the benefits of smartphones outweigh the harms, though teens have some mixed feelings when they are away from their phones. About three-quarters of U.S. teens say they feel happy or peaceful when they don’t have their smartphone; at the same time 44% say it makes them feel anxious, and 39% say they feel lonely without their phone. 69% of teens say smartphones make it easier for youth to pursue hobbies and interests. Nearly half of teens (46%) say their parent is at least sometimes distracted by their phone when they’re trying to talk to them.


National Academies releases report on social media and adolescent mental health.

Social media has been fully integrated into the lives of most adolescents in the U.S., raising concerns among parents, physicians, public health officials, and others about its effect on mental and physical health. A committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine examined the research exploring that effect, created a report with recommendations, multiple resources, and a video summary in an effort to maximize the good and minimize the bad.


Relationship between adolescent mental health and academic performance

Authors of a study suggest that academic performance may be a predictor of adolescents’ mental health status; but conversely, mental health may not be a predictor of adolescents’ academic performance. The findings underscore the importance of considering academic performance as a target for interventions to promote adolescents’ mental health; and offered school-based recommendations for the promotion of good mental health practices for students with low academic performance. Focusing on reducing school pressure and establishing personalized academic goals could contribute to better psychological well-being.


Data You Can Use: Black Youth Achievement in Milwaukee

A recent story highlighted Milwaukee’s Data You Can Use (DYCU) work. DYCU developed Data Chats around Black youth achievement data and facilitated conversations to understand the drivers of trends and highlight the limitations of existing data. During these Data Chats, participants discussed narratives that harm Black youth. One person recounted how they felt shaken up after experiencing gun violence on the way to high school one morning but still made it to school. For the participant, this example illustrated how showing up even when you are scared and overwhelmed demonstrates leadership and should be celebrated. Data Chats are an effective way to engage communities in interpreting data and using it to develop an action agenda. This model anchors community action in residents’ perspectives and priorities and builds lasting data capacity in communities.


Study finds racism contributes to high suicide rates among Black men.

Researchers say trauma and racism at an earlier age caused a significant negative impact on Black men's mental health as adults, with a new study showing the impact in the high suicide rates among Black men. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for African Americans ages 15-24. Suicide is particularly prevalent among Black men, who die by suicide at a rate more than four times that of Black women. The study found that growing up in a low-resource environment and experiencing racial discrimination during young adulthood makes it difficult to engage in healthy, trusting relationships. Strong feelings of mistrust and caution toward social relationships can lead to feelings of isolation, which in turn can prompt thoughts of death and suicide.

The study also notes that those who had a positive childhood experience but still experienced some form of racism had a harder time developing healthy relationships. It found that racial discrimination increased the risks of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Authors said adults can play a key role in helping Black children cope. “More research is needed, but one finding is unequivocal: Loving yourself as a Black person is foundational. Teaching children and youth to be proud of being Black counters the potential for them to internalize negative messages about Blackness that pervade U.S. society.”


Child Trends: A 100-Year Review of Research on Black Families

Child Trends’ new report explores the ways in which social science research focused on Black families has changed over 100 years and considers each era’s social, political, and economic contexts to use the past to develop lessons for the future. The organization will use the information gleaned from their review to further develop Child Trends’ applied research agenda to advance Black families’ well-being.


Recent Trends in Mental Health and Substance Use Concerns Among Adolescents

KFF summarized recent trends in adolescent well-being. Deaths due to drug overdose among adolescents more than doubled from 2018 to 2022. The largest increases in these deaths were among Hispanic and Black adolescents.


Delta-8-THC use reported by 11% of 12th graders

Data from the Monitoring the Future study reveal that 11% of 12th grade students in the U.S. used delta-8 in the past year, providing the first ever national estimates of teen delta-8 use. This is a psychoactive substance found in the Cannabis sativa plant, of which marijuana and hemp are two varieties. Also known as delta-8 THC, these products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context.

Teens in states without existing delta-8 regulations more than doubled the use of teens in states with delta-8 legislation. The sale of delta-8 in Wisconsin came out of the legalization of the hemp industry in connection with the 2018 Farm Bill.

To date, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest delta-8 is safer than marijuana or other THC cannabis products. Research on cannabis suggests that the developing brain in children and adolescents may be at risk of negative and deleterious effects from cannabis use, including memory loss, cognitive difficulties, brain developmental processes, and cannabis use disorder. Lack of federal regulation of delta-8 products can also put consumers at high risk of exposure to toxic byproducts.


Making cities mental health friendly for adolescents and young adults

A research study in Nature notes that urban life shapes the mental health of city dwellers, and although cities provide access to health, education, and economic gain, urban environments are often detrimental to mental health. A global group of researchers, practitioners, advocates, and young people completed sequential surveys to identify and prioritize the characteristics of a mental health-friendly city for young people. Life skills for personal development, valuing and accepting young people’s ideas and choices, providing safe public space for social connection, employment and job security, centering youth input in urban planning and design, and addressing adverse social determinants were priorities identified in the survey. Shaping the aspects of urban life that influence youth mental health could have an enormous impact on adolescent well-being and adult trajectories.


Public health researchers trying to rein in America’s gun violence crisis

From KFF Health News, we learn about the fight for research on gun violence in America. Guns became the leading cause of death for children and teens last year. Suicides accounted for more than half of those deaths, and firearm suicide rates have drastically increased among Black youth. Gun violence is among America’s most deadly and costly public health crises. But unlike other big killers (cancer, heart disease, cigarettes), sparse federal money goes to studying or preventing it. A small group of academics have toiled to document how gun violence courses through American communities with vast and tragic outcomes, investigating the growing public health risk, and focusing on who is impacted the most.

One researcher examined anxiety and depression among youths who live in neighborhoods with gun violence, noting there is a trauma from hearing gunshots and seeing gun injuries. Knowing that daily life can be a thrum of risk in vulnerable communities, notably those largely populated by Black and Hispanic, she organized the Black and Brown Collective with a core group of about two dozen scientists committed to contextualizing studies on gun violence.


New legislation aims to prevent suicides by way of improved data

Wisconsin legislators on the Speaker's Task Force on Suicide Prevention said it became apparent that a significant gap in the state's suicide prevention efforts lay in the lack of uniformity and availability of data concerning death records. A committee put forth five proposals, which were signed into law by Governor Evers in March 2024, that aim to address these gaps by allowing for additional fields on death records. Furthermore, they mandate the use of electronic systems for vital records, recommend training regimens for individuals responsible for completing and signing medical certifications of death and require the Department of Health Services to establish best practices for coroners and medical examiners. Task force leaders believes these steps will strengthen Wisconsin’s ability to tackle the pressing issue of suicide and improve mental health outcomes for its residents.


Sexual Violence and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ+ Young People

The Trevor Project found sexual violence is associated with higher suicide risk among LGBTQ+ young people. LGBTQ+ young people who had ever experienced any forced sexual contact reported more than twice the odds of seriously considering suicide in the past year.


With new flexibilities, CMS encourages mental health services in schools

CMS explicitly calls on states to promote the use of schools as a setting to increase access to mental health and substance use disorder services.  Its updated claiming guidelines allow for payment for school-based mental health for all qualifying students, not just students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs).  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) outlines the context for new guidance, the new flexibilities, shares what pediatricians can do to advocate for their state to adopt Medicaid reimbursement and to partner with schools to bolster their services.


Wisconsin Office of School Safety Receives 10,000th Contact to Speak Up, Speak Out Tipline

The Speak Up, Speak Out (SUSO) tipline has received its 10,000th contact since its inception on September 1, 2020. SUSO is a free, statewide threat reporting tipline available for all Wisconsin residents. Of the 10,000 contacts received, nearly 200 were concerns about planned school attacks, over 200 reports of guns or weapons, and over 350 related to suicide threats. A powerful school safety tool, SUSO provides students with immediate, accessible confidential adult support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. SUSO is also available to parents, school staff, or any community member to submit a school safety concern or threat. 


ABCD Study

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the U.S. The ABCD Study conducted research on youth experiences during COVID. They have released helpful infographics (in English and Spanish) and companion webinar recordings based on their findings, including the most recent summarizing data on youth experiences with relationships.