August Research Roundup
The latest research on preventing anxiety, increases in teen mental illness, and global Facebook adoption
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It’s August, summer is almost over, and I am sad about it. The only thing that might make me feel better? The comforting embrace of a Techno Sapiens Research Roundup. So, here we are (in three minutes or less).
Three articles today:
The surprising role of hospital screening procedures in teen mental health trends
An intervention for anxious parents to prevent anxiety in their kids
Facebook adoption and well-being in ~1M people (!) worldwide
1. Hospital screening procedures impact trends in teen mental health
We often hear about the problems with self-report measures in research, but what about hospital records? Surely, they offer a more “objective” look at mental health trends…right?
Maybe not. This study analyzed all hospital visit records for adolescents ages 10-18 in New Jersey between 2008 and 2019. These records include “diagnosis codes”—standard coding of mental or physical health issues that providers use for insurance purposes. These records show dramatic increases in youth mental health- and suicide-related visits in 2012, and again in 2016. The catch? Those two time points marked seemingly small—but highly impactful—changes in screening procedures. This included a U.S. recommendation for routine screening of adolescent girls’ depression (and mandatory insurance coverage of it) in 2011, and a new instruction to code “suicidal ideation” as its own condition, even when another mental health condition was the “primary” diagnosis.
In other words, these upticks may be due less to actual trends in teen mental illness, and more to changes in the minutiae of hospital screening and coding procedures. NBER.
My take: Are rates of teen mental illness far too high? Yes. Have they been increasing? Also yes. But these results, as the authors point out, suggest that rates may have always been high, and may not have increased quite as dramatically as we might think. It’s just one study, but if nothing else, a good reminder that even our most “objective” datasets can be flawed and confounding variables are lurking behind every corner.
2. Can anxious parents help prevent anxiety in their kids?
Parenting is hard for everyone, but parents with anxiety face particular challenges. Anxiety also tends to run in families. So, are there things parents can do to reduce anxiety in their children (and themselves)?
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