Eeva Aronen

Importance of executive functions, sleep and stress in the development of mental health in children

Professor Eeva Aronen’s research group explores the various factors affecting children’s mental health. The aim is to improve the prevention of child psychiatric disorders, their assessment, diagnostics and treatment methods.

The research group includes persons with background in medicine, psychology, pedagogy, biology and pharmacology. The group was formed in different research projects during the last five years.

– Children’s mental health is based on the developing brain and positive interactive experiences. The environment affects the development of the brain during pregnancy and throughout the child’s growth and development. It is important to promote children’s mental health, since we know that the course of development during childhood often predicts good health or illnesses during adulthood, Eeva Aronen states.

The studies examine the importance of sleep, stress and executive functions to children’s mental health. The group also studies conduct disorders in children and develops an intervention model for the treatment of disruptive behaviour. The use of psychiatric medication in children is also studied.

The impact of sleep and stress on behaviour

Results on the impact of sleep and stress on behaviour, mood, and executive functions in school children and child psychiatric patients have already been received.

– We have also reported results of the impact of skills related to executive functions, such as attention, working memory, inhibition capacity, to psychiatric symptoms in school children, and results of the impact of sleep and stress-related experiences on the psychiatric symptoms in children and adolescents.

The subject for further studies has already been determined.

– In our studies, we discovered that children below school age on whom a child psychiatric assessment was performed had many deficiencies in executive functions and sleep problems that had an impact on children’s symptoms. In school-aged children, negative experiences, and stress assessed by questionnaires or heart rate variability were significant for the child’s symptoms.

Aronen says that these findings encourage the group to further develop new assessment and treatment methods for executive functions in children, to study the impact of child and parent stress on a child’s mental symptoms, and to develop new forms to support the treatment and prevention of psychiatric disorders in children.

Contact details

Eeva Aronen
Helsinki University Hospital Children and Adolescents

Links to studies

Teivaanmäki S, Huhdanpää H,  Kiuru N, Aronen ET,  Närhi V, Klenberg L. Heterogeneity of executive functions among preschool children with psychiatric symptoms European Child & Adolescent. Psychiatry 2020.

Maasalo K, Lindblom J, Kiviruusu O, Santalahti P, Aronen ET.  Longitudinal associations between inhibitory control and externalising and internalising symptoms in school-aged children. Development and Psychopathology 2020;1–13.

Vuori M, Martikainen JE, Koski-Pirilä A, Sourander A, Puustjärvi A, Aronen ET, Chudald R, Leena K. Saastamoinen L. Children’s Relative Age and ADHD Medication Use: A Finnish Population-Based Study. Pediatrics 2020:146.

Varimo E, Saastamoinen L, Rättö H, Mogk H, Aronen ET. New Users of Antipsychotics among Children and Adolescents in 2008-2017: a Nationwide Register Study. Front. Psychiatry 2020;11:316.

Huhdanpää H, Moralez-Munoz I, Aronen ET, Pölkki P, Saarenpää-Heikkilä O, Kylliäinen A, Paavonen JE. Prenatal and Postnatal Predictive Factors for Child´s Inattentive and Hyperactive Symptoms at age 5 years:  The Role of Early Family-related Factors. Child Psychiatry & Human Development. 2021;52:783–799.

Karjalainen P, Kiviruusu O, Santalahti P, Aronen ET.  Parents’ perceptions of a group-based parenting program in families with child protection and other family support services in a real-life setting. Child & Family Social Work. 2020; 1-12.

Karjalainen P., Santalahti P., Aronen E.T. & Kiviruusu O. Parent- and teacher-reported long-term effects of parent training on child conduct problems in families with child protection and other support services: a randomized controlled trial. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2021;15:7.  

Backman H, Laajasalo T, Jokela M, Aronen ET. Parental warmth and hostility and the development of psychopathic behaviors: A longitudinal study of young offenders. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2021;30:955-965.

Varimo E, Aronen ET, Mogk H, Rättö H, Saastamoinen LK. Antipsychotic Treatment Duration in Children and Adolescents: A Register-Based Nationwide Study. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2021;6:421-429.

Vuori M, Sourander A, Aronen ET, Kronström K, Saastamoinen LK. Relative Age and the Use of Second-Generation Antipsychotics from 7 to 17 Years of Age: A Population-Based Register Study. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2021 Oct 7.

Seesjärvi E, Puhakka J, Aronen ET, Lipsanen J, Mannerkoski M, Hering A, Zuber S, Kliegel M, Laine M, Salmi J. Quantifying ADHD symptoms in open-ended everyday life contexts with a new virtual reality tool. Journal of Attention Disorders, in press.