Children who suffer from poor mental health may also have a lower chance of success later in life, according to a new study from researchers at Duke University.
The scientists 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, and difficulty getting and keeping jobs, education failures and housing instability, the study authors said.
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.
While still in 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.
Researchers followed up with the participants as adults.
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."
Parents and family members are typically the first to notice if a child seems to have problems with emotions or behavior, but may not know when they should seek professional help for a child. The following signs may indicate the need for professional help:
• Decline in school performance
• Poor grades despite strong efforts
• Constant worry or anxiety
• Repeated refusal to go to school or to take part in normal activities
• Hyperactivity or fidgeting
• Persistent nightmares
• Persistent disobedience or aggression
• Frequent temper tantrums
• Depression, sadness or irritability
Getting children help when they are young can change the course of their lives. If you suspect your child may need a mental health evaluation, talk with your pediatrician or family doctor about available resources.
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. However, even children with mild or passing episodes of psychiatric problems were found to be at an increase risk for struggles later in life.
The study was published in the July 15th issue of the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Sources: Robert Preidt, http://consumer.healthday.com/kids-health-information-23/kids-ailments-health-news-434/mental-health-problems-in-childhood-linked-to-greater-chances-of-trouble-in-adulthood-701298.html