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The relationship between mental health and risky decision-making in children and adolescents: a scoping review.

BMC Psychiatry 2024 June 6
BACKGROUND: Evidence from studies on adult participants and clinical samples of children suggest an association between risky decision-making and mental health problems. However, the extent and nature of this association in the general youth population remains unknown. Therefore, this scoping review explores the current evidence on the relationship between mental health (internalising and externalising symptoms) and risky decision-making in the general youth population.

METHODS: A three-step search strategy was followed and applied to four databases. Selection criteria included participants < 18 years representative of the general population, and information on both risky decision-making (assessed using gambling tasks) and internalising /externalising symptoms. Data were extracted and synthesised for study and participant characteristics, aspects and measures for the main variables, and key findings.

RESULTS: Following screening, twenty-one studies were retrieved. Non-significant associations were more frequent than significant associations for both internalising and externalising symptoms, particularly for social difficulties and broad externalising symptoms. Among the significant associations, hyperactivity/inattention and conduct problems appeared to be positively associated with risk-taking and negatively associated with quality of decision-making. However, patterns were less clear for links between risky decision-making and internalising symptoms, especially between risk-taking and anxiety symptoms.

CONCLUSIONS: The present review suggests predominantly a lack of relationship between risky decision-making and mental health problems, and outlines several possible reasons for it. However, when specificity is considered carefully there seems to be a link between risk-taking and specific externalising problems. Future research should employ study designs aimed at disentangling the direction of this relationship and identifying specific aspects of mental health and risky decision-making that could be eventually addressed by tailored interventions.

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