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Let's Connect: Children's Mental Health Week 2023

Children's Mental Health Week is an annual event led by Place2Be which is dedicated to raising awareness about children and young people's mental health. This year it took place on the 6th - 12th February 2023.

Throughout the week, the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London shared some of the world-leading research happening across the Institute to raise awareness for some of the risk and protective factors associated with childhood mental health difficulties.

Day 1: Partnering for better children's mental health

Children’s mental health has never been so critical. Before the pandemic, one in nine children had a probable mental health disorder. In 2022, this figure was at one in six and, for young people aged 17-19, one in four. Children's Mental Health Week offers an important opportunity to reflect on what’s being done to support young people, and what we can do better.

The King’s Maudsley Partnership for Children and Young People brings together clinical and academic excellence in a unique collaboration between the UK’s largest NHS provider of specialist CAMHS services, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and the leading child and adolescent mental health research team in Europe at King's College London - supported by the Maudsley Charity and leading philanthropists.

The partnership, which will be based at the new Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People, will allow clinicians and researchers to collaborate even more closely to find new ways to predict, prevent and treat mental health disorders. This will enable us to translate research into practical treatments to benefit young people locally, nationally and across the globe in the shortest possible time.

Day 2: Protecting young people's wellbeing on social media

Although smartphones are useful, there is concern about their effect on mental health and wellbeing. For example, studies have found that night-time use is related to poor sleep as well as mood changes. However, we don’t know exactly how social media and smartphone use can impact on mental health, including self-harm, nor do we know how usage can change in association with changes in mental health.

The 3S-YP study (Social Media, Smartphone Use and Self-Harm In Young People) aims to understand how social media and smartphone use are associated with changes in mental health and wellbeing in young people over the course of a year. The findings will help us learn when and what type of support would be useful for young people who are experiencing difficulties.

The study is led by Dr Rina Dutta in partnership with YoungMinds and funded by the Medical Research Council and Medical Research Foundation.

For Safer Internet Day and Children's Mental Health Week, Dr Dutta shares her top three tips for young people to protect their wellbeing while using social media:

  1. Think about where you charge your devices. Charge them outside your bedroom to avoid the temptation to use them at night.
  2. Diversify your social media & keep communication open. Use a diverse range of platforms. Parents and young people should try to have conversations about what those platforms are and why they are appealing.
  3. Balance social media use with other everyday things. Don't forget to go outdoors, play sports or cook!

Learn more about the 3S-YP study and hear Dr Rina Dutta's top tips for young people in the video below:

Day 3: How does childhood social isolation impact mental health? 

Katie Thompson, PhD Student at the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at King's, explains how social isolation levels can vary across childhood, and discusses which children are most at risk of developing poor mental health later in life. 

Her research, published in JCPP Advances last May, found that socially isolated children are more likely to experience ADHD symptoms and loneliness as young adults despite other risk factors in childhood.

Using data from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, researchers examined social isolation through childhood and identified three types of developmental progression which were associated with emotional and behavioural challenges before and after the onset of isolation.

The study revealed that the experience of social isolation in childhood was associated with a range of difficulties in adulthood, even when the isolation itself had reduced. The findings suggest that childhood social isolation can indicate co-occurring mental health difficulties, which can be used to guide intervention in young people.

Watch the video below to learn more about Katie's research, and what she's currently working on:

Day 4: Listening to the voices of neurodivergent young people

Dr Myrofora Kakoulidou, Post-Docoral Researcher at the IoPPN, shared some of the work she is doing on the ‘My Emotions and Me’ sub-stream of the RE-STAR project (Regulating Emotions – Strengthening Adolescent Resilience). Through her research, Dr Kakoulidou is trying to understand what factors contribute to young people’s learning and wellbeing to help develop evidence-based school interventions. 

RE-STAR is a four-year, interdisciplinary programme, led by Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, which brings together science and arts to understand emotional difficulties in neurodivergent young people in order to help develop effective support.

Many young people with ADHD and autistic traits develop depression during adolescence – but we currently don’t know which individuals are at risk, what underlying processes increase that risk or, perhaps most importantly, the best way to intervene to increase resilience to reduce that risk.

RE-STAR aims to address these gaps by testing the specific role of emotion regulation difficulties, commonly observed in young people with neuroatypicalities, in driving developmental pathways to depression.

For decades, the voices of neurodivergent young people have been neglected. RE-STAR puts young people with ADHD and autism at the heart of research.– Dr Myrofora Kakoulidou, Post-Docoral Researcher at King's IoPPN

Find out more about Dr Myrofora Kakoulidou's work on the RE-STAR project:

Day 5: How can fathers impact children's mental health?

Thirty years ago, fathers spent just 15-30 minutes a day with their children. Today, it is more like two hours. However, fathers’ increasing involvement with their children is not always well represented in developmental research and family policy. With changes in family roles, fathers may have a crucial role to play in improving child wellbeing. Alex Martin, Research Associate at the IoPPN, explores some of her research in this area and explains the protective role fathers can have in her Children's Mental Health Week blog.

Her team at the Developmental Psychopathology Lab investigated whether the relationships between fathers and their partners (father-mother relationship), and fathers and their children (father-child relationship), can reduce the risk of adverse mental health outcomes in children when mothers are experiencing postnatal depression symptoms.

They found both the father-mother and the father-child relationships were important; when both relationships were strong, risk of emotional and behavioural outcomes in children was reduced by around 10%. But what do these findings mean? Read more about Alex's research, the role of father's in child wellbeing, and what needs to be done to improve children's mental health in her blog.

Understanding very early brain development with the Brain Imaging in Babies Study

Did you know that in the first year of life your brain triples in size?

The Brain Imaging in Babies Study (BIBS) aims to improve understanding of how a baby's brain develops from before birth, up until 3-4 years of age. Working with children from a variety of backgrounds and communities, they use a combination of state-of-the-art diagnostic tools such as MRI scans alongside traditional behavioural assessments to capture the earliest information on infant brain development.

The BIBS team are focusing on how brains develop in babies who go on to have conditions such as autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and ADHD, and how different factors might influence brain development, such as levels of vitamin D, stress and infections (such as COVID-19) in mothers. To date, they have recruited 470 families, and aim to collect data at the very beginning of children’s lives. They have conducted 21 fetal scans, 234 neonatal scans and 128 six month scans.

The study is being co-led by Professor Grainne McAlonan, Theme Lead for Child Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the NIHR Maudsley BRC and Professor of Translational Neuroscience at the IoPPN. It is part of the EU-AIMS project - the largest mental health study in Europe.

Watch a short video about the project below:

In this story

Rina Dutta

Rina Dutta

Reader in Suicidology and Psychiatry

Katie Thompson

Katie Thompson

Research student

Myrofora Kakoulidou

Myrofora Kakoulidou

Research Assistant

Alex F Martin

Alex F Martin

Post-doctoral researcher

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