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This page features recent research on disorders in children,
teens, and young adults.  Check back from time to time for updates.

Vitamin D deficiency may cause HallucinationsRussian brain diagram
Schizophrenia Research, November 2013

The study looked at nearly 140 people; 69 patients presenting with their first episode of psychosis, and 69 healthy controls, matched for age, sex, and ethnicity.  The findings revealed that the patients presenting with psychosis were nearly 3 times as likely to have vitamin D deficiency than the healthy controls.

Vitamin D Insufficiency in Psychiatric Inpatients
Journal of Psychiatric Practice, July 2013

Vitamin D deficiency was found in 75% of patients admitted to an Illinois psychiatric ward between December 2010 and June 2011.   “Vitamin D insufficiency is highly prevalent in psychiatric inpatients. It is unclear whether this is the result of severe mental illness and resultant social isolation, or if vitamin D has a regulatory role on upstream genes involved in neural networks that influence affect, cognition, and perception.”

MJ brainKeeping Teenagers Safe In Vehicles:  Alcohol use is down but marijuana use is up
O’Malley, P. & Johnson, American Journal of Public Health. Nov. 2013, Vol 103, No. 11.

Driving accidents remain the number one cause of mortality among American teenagers. Alcohol use is often involved, and more recently, distracted driving as a result of cell phones is a contributor. A recent analysis has found that drinking and driving has decreased among teenagers, but “using marijuana and driving has increased.”  In this longitudinal study, a sample of 22,000 12th grade students from high schools across the country were questioned over a ten year period, from 2001-2011. They showed an increase over the 10-year period in either being the driver or passenger of a driver who had just used marijuana. Specifically, 28% reported doing so within the past two weeks.  Marijuana use can impact drivers as much as alcohol.

Children with night terrors at increased risk of psychotic experiences in adolescence.
SLEEP, University of Warwick, Coventry UK, February 2014

Children reporting frequent nightmares before the age of 12 were three and a half times more likely to suffer from psychotic experiences in early adolescence.  “Younger children, between two and nine years old…had up to one and a half times increased risk of developing psychotic experiences,” the researchers noted.

Night terrors are a sleep disorder and different from nightmares and occur during deep sleep (non-REM) cycles in the first half of the night. When experiencing a night terror, the child often will scream and sit upright in a panicked state, unaware of any of the involuntary action.

“… Try to maintain a lifestyle that promotes healthy sleep hygiene for your child, by creating an environment that allows for the best possible quality of sleep,” said Dr. Helen Fisher of King’s College London.  Avoid sugary drinks before bed, and remove any affecting stimuli from the bedroom — television, video games, or otherwise.

Antianxiety Drugs Successfully Treat Autismanxious girl
Mar 19, 2014 |Scientific American MIND

“Exciting” findings in mice suggest that common drugs effectively treated core autistic behaviors.  Parents trying to help their children manage the constellation of symptoms associated with autism have had few drug options available to treat key aspects of the disorder. Now, encouraging results from a new study suggest that low doses of antianxiety medications already available on the market, such as benzodiazepines, might become the latest drugs parents ask doctors to prescribe, even if the drugs are not an approved treatment for autism.

ADHD medications appear to reduce criminality in adulthood
Review of Medication for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Criminality
Lichenstein et al, The New England Journal of Medicine, November 2012

In this study, researchers “noted that among those receiving ADHD medication, ‘There was a significant reduction of 32% in the criminality rate for men and 41% for women.’”  Criminality in people with ADHD starts from complex chain reaction: untreated ADHD kids bombing in school – which leads to more substance abuse in later years (as evidenced by research) – which can lead to dropping out of school – which leads to winding up, one way or another, in trouble with the law.  ADHD medication treatment may curb addictions and substance abuse (especially when it’s used as “self-medicating”) and in turn decrease the likelihood of criminal behavior.

Parental Time with Teen is Time Well-Spent
Penn State University, August 2012

“The stereotype that teenagers spend all their time holed up in their rooms or hanging out with friends is, indeed, just a stereotype,” said researcher Susan McHale, Ph.D.  “Our research shows that, well into the adolescent years, teens continue to spend time with their parents and that this shared time, especially shared time with fathers, has important implications for adolescents’ psychological and social adjustment.”

According to youths’ reports of their daily time, parent-teen time with just the parent and the teen present increased in early and middle adolescence — a finding that contradicts the stereotype of teens growing apart from their parents.  Researchers also discovered that teens who spent more time with their fathers with others present had better social skills with peers. Also, teens that spent more time alone with their fathers had higher self-esteem.

Daily or Severe Tantrums in Preschoolers May Point to Mental Health Issues
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, August 2012

Most young children lose their temper sometimes, but daily tantrums or tantrums with severe behaviors, such as aggressive or destructive tantrums, are unusual and could signal a larger problem, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.  Distinguishing “normal” misbehaviors of early childhood from “abnormal” ones can be challenging for pediatricians and parents.  Researchers examined temper loss among preschoolers ages 3-5 as a spectrum of behaviors ranging from mild or normal to “problem indicators” that may be signs of a greater, underlying mental health issue.

More than 80 percent of preschoolers have one or more tantrums in the past month. However, less than 10 percent have tantrums every day.

Normal preschooler tantrums typically occur:

  • when preschoolers were frustrated, angry, or upset (61 percent)
  • during daily routines, such as bedtime, mealtime, or getting dressed (58 percent)
  • with their parents (56 percent).

Abnormal tantrum behaviors point to possible mental disorders when the preschooler misbehaves:

  • with an adult who was not their parent, such as a babysitter or teacher (36 percent)
  • during which they broke or destroyed things (28 percent)
  • “out of the blue,” or for which parents could not discern a reason (26 percent)
  • that lasted an unusually long time (26 percent)
  • during which they hit, bit, or kicked someone else (24 percent).

Marijuana Can Permanently Lower IQ in Teens
Duke University and King College (London), August 2012

18-year-old with 3 year history of marijuana use, 4 times per week

Underside of normal brain.

Teens who regularly smoke marijuana are putting themselves at risk of permanently damaging their intelligence as adults, and are also significantly more likely to have attention and memory problems later in life, than their peers who abstained, according to a new study conducted by Duke University and London’s King’s College. This study is among the first to distinguish between cognitive problems the person might have had before using marijuana, and those that were caused by the drug.

The research found that adults who started smoking pot as teenagers and used it heavily, but quit as adults, did not regain their full mental powers. In fact, “persistent users” who started as teenagers suffered a drop of eight IQ points at the age of 38, compared to when they were 13.  Researchers noted that many young people see marijuana as a safer alternative to tobacco. A recent “Monitoring the Future” study found that, for the first time, more American high school students are using marijuana than tobacco. Lead researcher Madeline Meier, a post-doctoral researcher at Duke University, said, “Marijuana is not harmless, particularly for adolescents.”

Blood Test May Identify Depression—Study
March 2012

A single blood test may be able to diagnose major depression in teens, according to a new study. Researchers tested the blood of 28 teens from Ohio ages 15 to 19. Half had been diagnosed as depressed but not treated; the others weren’t depressed. The researchers checked their blood samples for 26 genetic blood markers that previously indicated depression in rats. The researchers discovered that they could distinguish between major depression with anxiety and without anxiety, based upon the genetic markers. In addition, 18 markers distinguished patients with major depression from those with major depression and an anxiety disorder. While the experiments must be repeated and expanded with more and varied subjects before blood tests can be used for diagnosis in a clinical setting, the researchers say doctors could one day use these blood tests to diagnose patients instead of relying on subjective interviews.

Computer Program May Help Kids with Depression
University of Auckland-New Zealand 2012

A  specially designed computer game may be able to treat a teenagers’ depression as effectively as a human therapist, a new study asserts. Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand examined the use of an interactive fantasy game termed SPARX, in which users go through a series of challenges to restore balance in a fantasy world dominated by “gloomy negative automatic thoughts.” The game approach was compared to conventional care, which for most people included face-to-face sessions with trained counselors or psychologists. When adolescents and teens ages 12 to 19 with mild to moderate depression played SPARX over a four- to seven-week period, they experienced a reduction in their scores for common depression that was similar to the reduction seen in teens who had undergone counseling sessions instead. The researchers also found that 43 percent of the adolescents and teens who played SPARX were no longer depressed by the end of the study period,compared to just 26 percent of their counterparts who received treatment as usual.)

Fast Food Linked to Depression
Public Health Nutrition Journal. March 2012

There is a direct relationship between eating fast food or commercial baked goods (doughnuts, cakes, croissants) and the risk of developing depression, according to a recent study by scientists from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Granada. Consumers of fast food are 51 percent more likely to develop depression than minimal or non-consumers. Furthermore, the connection between the two is so strong that “the more fast food you consume, the greater the risk of depression,” said Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, Ph.D., lead author of the study.  The results were equally consistent in regard to the consumption of commercial baked goods. “Even eating small quantities is linked to a significantly higher chance of developing depression,” said Sánchez-Villegas.  Certain nutrients play a preventative role in depression. These include B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and olive oil.

Mental Illness Labels May Have Different Effects
Journal of Health and Social Behavior, April 2012

The labels assigned to people who show signs of depression and other common mental illnesses may make it harder for those patients to get the support they need. Researchers say people known to have these disorders are more vulnerable to stigma and discrimination. But being labeled with such disorders can also evoke a strong supportive response from close friends and families. Interviews with 165 individuals with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression and other less severe disorders, who were undergoing mental health treatment for the first time, found that diagnosing someone with a severe mental illness that is more outwardly recognizable, such as schizophrenia or the manic phase of bipolar disorder, can lead to a higher amount of rejection and discrimination by acquaintances and strangers while at the same time creating a stronger social support system among close friends and family.

Researchers Identify Brain Differences in ADHD
Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2011

An area of the brain works less efficiently in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, researchers say. Using a functional magnetic imaging scanner to track signs of neural activity among 19 affected children and 23 other children, the scientists discovered that a critical mental control area, called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, worked much harder among children with attention problems. The findings suggest that the function as well as the structure of this brain area is different in children with ADHD.

Children Involved in Bullying More Likely to Consider Suicide by Age of 11
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, March 2012

Astonishing and tragic news:  Children who are bullies and those who are victims of bullying are more likely to consider suicide by time they are 11 than their peers.  Researchers analyzed bullying among more than 6,000 children ranging in age from 4 to 10, and the prevalence of suicidal thoughts when the same children were 11 and 12.  The study found that children who were bullied over a long period of time were six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than children who weren’t bullied.  Those who were bullies were also at increased risk for self-harm and suicidal thoughts, but the findings were not as consistent for this group, researchers said.

Children with Depression at Increased Risk for Bullying
Journal of Child Development, February 2012

Children with depression are at increased risk for bullying.  The researchers analyzed data collected from 486 children from 4th to 6th grade and found that being depressed in fourth grade predicted bullying in fifth grade, and lack of peer acceptance in sixth grade.  Previous studies that tried to determine whether bullying causes depression or whether depressed kids become magnets for bullies have produced conflicting results.

Men Who Were Bullies as Kids More Likely to Be Abusive as Adults
HealthDay News, June 2011

Men who bullied others during childhood are more likely to abuse wives and girlfriends when they grow up, a new study asserts. Researchers surveyed 1,491 men aged 18 to 35 who visited three urban community health centers. More than 40 percent of the men said they’d bullied other kids as children, and 16 percent reported abusing the women in their lives in the past year. Of those who had  recently abused women, 38 percent said they had frequently bullied others when they were kids. Among men who had not been abusive in the past year, just 12 percent had been frequent bullies as kids.

Bipolar children are more easily bored than other children
Bipolar children more easily bored (very good article)  …which can lead to attention-getting behaviors such as teasing or emotional outbursts.  They also lack focus and have other symptoms that look like ADHD.  This excellent article provides information about why this happens, and offers practical advice for parents on how to manage this exasperating behavior.

Parental Depression Linked to Children’s Behavior, Emotional Problems
Pediatrics, November 2011

Paternal depression and other mental health problems affect the behavior of children, researchers say. An analysis of surveys of nearly 22,000 U.S. children aged 5 to 17, and their mothers and fathers, found that emotional and behavioral problems were 72 percent more likely with depressed dads. Only 6% of children with two mentally healthy parents have serious emotional or behavioral problems, but the rate increases to 11 % if the father is depressed, 19% if the mother is depressed and 25% if both parents are depressed. A mothers’ mental health may be more influential because they often spend more time with the children than fathers.

Mental Health Conditions among the Five Most Treated Medical Conditions in Children

News and Numbers, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, December 2011

Mental health conditions—along with acute bronchitis, asthma, trauma-related disorders, middle-ear infections—was among the five most commonly treated medical problems among children in 2008, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality. More than 40 percent of the nation’s children age 17 and younger were treated for at least one of those conditions. Mental health conditions were the fifth most commonly treated condition (5 million children) and had the highest treatment cost—an average of $2,483 per child.

Medicare paid the largest share of treatment costs for mental disorders (46 percent), while private insurance paid  the largest share for the treatment of middle-ear infections (64 percent),  trauma (62 percent) and bronchitis (55 percent).

Binge Drinking Harmful to Brain Development
Alcoholism-Clinical and Experimental Research, July 2011

Binge drinking can have a long-lasting negative effect on the brains of teenagers, researchers say. And girls may be especially susceptible. Researchers interviewed 95 teenagers on substance use and conducted neuropsychological testing along with brain scans to test working memory. According to the news release, drinking-related impairments in spatial working memory can affect the following:

  • Driving
  • Figural reasoning, such as geometry
  • Sports, specifically remembering and enacting complex plays
  • Reading maps
  • Remembering directions or routes

They found that teen girls who were heavy drinkers had less brain activation in several areas of their brains than other girls their age that didn’t drink. Teenage boys who drank excessively displayed some changes compared to those who didn’t drink, but it was less than among girls.

Pesticides May Increase Risk of ADHD in Children
Pediatrics, May 2010

Children exposed to common pesticides used on fruits and vegetables could have a higher risk of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study has found. Researchers looked at a sample of 1,139 children between 8 and 15 years old, and measures of pesticide compounds, known as organophosphates, in their urine. Kids with higher-than-average levels of the compound were about twice as likely to have ADHD as kids with undetectable levels of the compound. The study does not prove pesticides cause ADHD, but the link is significant, researchers say.

12-Year Olds Abusing Inhalants
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2010

More 12-year-olds have used inhalants to get high than marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens combined, according to a new report. Using statistics from 2006-2008 national surveys, SAMHSA found that almost seven percent of 12-year-olds report sniffing inhalants, compared to 1.4 percent who say they’ve used marijuana, 0.7 percent who’ve used hallucinogens, and 0.1 percent who’ve used cocaine. About five percent reported using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. Inhalants include aerosol computer cleaners, glue, hair sprays, paint solvents and gasoline. When sniffed, the inhalants can cause addiction or sudden death from cardiac arrest.

More U.S. kids in hospital for mental illness
Archives of General Psychiatry  Aug 2011

American kids are increasingly likely to be admitted to the hospital for mental problems, although rates of non-psychiatric hospitalizations have remained flat.  From 1996 to 2007, the rate of psychiatric hospital discharges rose by more than 80 percent for 5-13-year-olds and by 42 percent for older teens.”This occurs despite numerous efforts to make outpatient services for the more vulnerable kids more widely available,” said Joseph C. Blader of Stony Brook State University of New York, “hospitalization is the last resort, because it’s so disruptive for normal life.

Overall, short-term hospital admissions for mental illness rose from 156 to 283 per 100,000 children per year over the ten-year study period, based on data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey.  For adolescents, the rate increased from 683 to 969 per 100,000, while it went up from 921 to 996 for adults.

Although there have been concerns about over diagnosis of bipolar disorder and other mental problems among children, Blader said that was unlikely to be hiking the rates.  That’s because hospitalizations are based on whether or not people are considered a danger to themselves or others, not on psychiatric labels.

One Response to Research

  1. Sue Terrell

    Hi Margaret,
    Your website is impressive with lots of good, practical tips for parents of troubled kids! I am writing because I am a PhD candidate in clinical social work doing a dissertation on the experience of middle school students identified as having a behavioral disorder in the school setting. It is a qualitative study attempting to let the children’s voices be heard. I want to do this by interviewing students with an IEP for Emotional Disability to hear how they view their lives, particularly how they experience school and the interventions used for them in the school setting. I am wondering if I could post a notice on your website for volunteers for the study. Participants will be interviewed for about one hour and receive a $20 gift card as a thank-you for their time. I can send you more details as needed. Participants would need to be limited to the midwestern states.
    Thanks for considering this! Sue Terrell, RN, LCSW

Thanks for your reply. Your thoughts help others who read this site!