SOURCE: Duke University, news release, July 15, 2015
WEDNESDAY, July 15, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Poor mental health in childhood may lower the chances of success in adulthood, a new study suggests.
Duke University researchers found that children with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and/or behavioral problems were six times more likely than those with no psychiatric problems to have difficulties in adulthood.
Those later struggles included addiction, early pregnancy, criminal charges, difficulty getting and keeping jobs, education failures and housing instability, the study authors said.
Even children with mild or passing episodes of psychiatric problems were at increased risk, according to the study in the July 15 issue of the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
While the study found an association between poor mental health in childhood and problems later in life, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.
The researchers analyzed data from more than 1,400 participants in 11 North Carolina counties who were followed from childhood through adulthood. Most of the study participants are now in their 30s.
During childhood, about 26 percent of the participants met the criteria for depression, anxiety or a behavioral disorder, 31 percent had milder forms below the full threshold of a diagnosis, and nearly 43 percent had no mental health problems.
Among those diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder in childhood, more than 59 percent had a serious challenge in adulthood and about 34 percent had numerous problems. The rates among those with milder forms of mental illness were about 42 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
"When it comes to key psychiatric problems -- depression, anxiety, behavior disorders -- there are successful interventions and prevention programs," study author William Copeland, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said in a Duke news release.
"So, we do have the tools to address these, but they aren't implemented widely. The burden is then later seen in adulthood, when these problems become costly public health and social issues," he added.
The findings show the need to treat mental health problems early. But, only about 40 percent of children with diagnosed psychiatric disorders receive treatment, and the rate is even lower for those with milder mental health problems, according to Copeland.
"A big problem with mental health in the United States is that most children don't get treatment and those who do don't get what we would consider optimal care," he said. "So the problems go on much longer than they need to and cost much more than they should in both money and damaged lives."
The American Psychological Association has more on mental health in childhood.